Analysis of progress against Carbon Budget Delivery Plan targets for farming and land use

The Progress Report will assess progress against the transition to net zero, and comes a few months after the Government published their Net Zero Growth plan and Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) [1]

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Summary of analysis

The Climate Change Committee are due to publish their Progress Report to Parliament on 28th June. This will assess progress against the transition to net zero, and comes a few months after the Government published their Net Zero Growth plan and Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) .

  • Agriculture and land use currently accounts for around 11% of all emissions, and the total level of emissions from the sector has been steady as other sectors emissions have declined.
  • The CBDP is significantly less ambitious on agriculture and land use than for other sectors, with emissions for the sector projected to be 75% of current levels by 2035 , compared to no more than 50% for any other sector. [2]

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Current plans will see agriculture and land use account for 19% of all residual emissions by 2037. This will see agriculture and land use move up from fourth to second most emitting sector by 2037, just behind domestic transport.

However, new ECIU analysis of the CBDP measures for agriculture and land use suggests that even getting to 75% of current emissions by 2037 is unlikely based on current rates of progress.

Looking at the four areas that the CBDP includes deployment assumptions for – peatland restoration, woodland creation, low carbon farming practices and bioenergy – no or little progress is being made, and in some cases they are going backwards.

Peatland restoration

Unpublished data for 2022 and 2023 released to ECIU shows that Defra are well of course to meet the target of 35,000ha of peatland restored in this Parliament.

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The CBDP assumes that 14,000ha of peatland will be under restoration each year from 2025. This is a more than three-fold increase on the area projected to be under restoration in 2023 based on Defra figures. However, to meet the target for this Parliament, the area under restoration in 2023 would need to be 10,000ha, rising to 14,000ha in 2024.

Comparing the current rate of restoration to the trajectory needed to meet their CBDP deployment assumptions, the government will be 80,000ha short by 2037. The current trajectory assumes a slight increase to 6000ha per year from 2024 given some recent improvement in area under restoration.

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This widens to a gap of more than 100,000ha short of the governments 2050 target of 280,000ha of peatland restored in England. This 280,000ha target is already well short of the CCC recommended target to restore 100% of upland peat by 2045, and have 60% of lowland peat rewetted or under sustainable management by 2050, which amounts to around 350,000ha.

Woodland creation

It is a similar picture for woodland creation, with recently published data [3] for 2023 showing only a modest uplift in woodland creation rates for England, from 2260ha in 2022 to 3130ha in 2023.

The CBDP envisages woodland creation in England of 7500ha in 2025, rising to 8900ha in 2030 and 10300ha per year in 2035. This would need to climb to 10,514ha per year between 2036 and 2050 to meet the recently published Environmental Improvement Plan target to increase woodland cover from 14.5% to 16.5% by 2050, a total increase of just over 260,000ha.

Based on current rates of progress, only 70,000ha of woodland would have been created in England between 2021 and 2050, leaving the government 190,000ha short of their target, and 21,000ha short of their interim target of creating 34,000ha of new woodland by 2028.

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Low carbon farming pratices

The targets for low carbon farming practices are to increase uptake to 70% of farmers by 2025, 75% by 2030 and 85% by 2035.

This describes a basket of measures such as recycling waste material, improving the accuracy of nitrogen fertiliser application and improving energy efficiency. Uptake has been flat since Defra started to measure uptake in 2013.

The 2023 total – published earlier this month – was the lowest since the survey started, and comes following two previous years of declines from a high point in 2020. This puts the uptake on a downward trend, and 17 percentage points off the 2025 target.

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Perennial bioenergy crops

The CBDP does not project much progress on uptake of short rotation and other perennial bioenergy crops in the fourth carbon budget, with the plan assuming that uptake only increase from carbon budget 5 from 2028.

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The CBDP envisages increasing from 0ha in 2025 to 8900ha in 2030 and 15000ha in 2035, increasing the area of energy crops from around 10000ha now to 133000ha in 2023, the end of the sixth carbon budget.

Other measures in the CBDP

The government has generally not published targets or deployment assumptions for the more detailed package of measures in the CBDP (Annex 1 below). The exceptions to these are hedgerows and agroforestry.

Seven out of thirty four measures make up over 75% of all emissions savings. The measure that makes the single biggest contribution is use of methane suppressing feed products. Despite including an average of 0.9 MtCO2e each year in the fourth carbon budget (2023-2027), and a commencement date for these emissions savings of 2022, methane suppressing feed additives are not yet available in Great Britain.

Although licenced for use in the European Union (EU) in 2022 (including Northern Ireland), they are not likely to be available for use in Great Britain until 2025.

It is therefore likely that the 0.9 MtCO2e of emissions savings projected in the CBDP for 2023 and 2024 will not be realised. Although only two years worth of emissions savings from this one measure, due to importance of methane suppressants in Defra’s plans these two years are equivalent to the total emissions savings across carbon budgets 4, 5 and 6 from the 13 measures that contribute the least. There are a total of 34 measures.

Amongst the other measures projected to make a significant contribution to total savings, little progress has been made towards the more sustainable management of lowland peat. Although some lowland peat will be included in the peatland restoration statistics above, it is likely to be a small proportion of the total, which will be predominantly made up of upland peat.

This issue was looked at by the Lowland Agricultural Peat Taskforce (LAPTF), which submitted its final report to Defra in autumn 2022. Defra is expected to publish the report on Thursday 29th June.

Also of note are the 66 MtCO2e that the CBDP assumes will be saved by equivalent carbon reduction plans from the devolved administration. This amounts to 49.3% of all greenhouse gas emissions savings from agriculture and land use needed in the UK. The CBDP does not give any detail of plans to achieve these emissions reductions.

The limited progress being made across some of the key measures for agriculture and land use in the CBDP suggest that even reducing emissions to 75% of current levels by 2037 is likely to be difficult, and increasingly so – each year that annual targets aren’t met, future annual targets need to become more ambitious in order to meet the overall targets for 2050.

The lack of progress can be explained partly due to inadequate policies and funding. Methane suppressants for example are not yet available in the UK, despite their importance to GHG reduction targets and the being available for use in the EU.

Environmental Land Management schemes have been slow to be made available. Eciu analysis suggests these schemes are likely to be key to 21% of emissions savings in CB4, rising to 41% of savings in CB6 as the role of land use and land management becomes more important relative to other measures.

Funding for peatland restoration has been limited, with the Peatland Capital Grant fund accounting for only £60m of the £725m Nature for Climate fund. The rest of this has been allocated to woodland creation, despite emissions savings from peatland restoration exceeding those from woodland by a factor of 6.

And progress on woodland creation in England has been slow compared to creation rates in Scotland.

CBDP measures for agriculture and land use, including proportion of total emissions savings across carbon budgets 4, 5 and 6 and cumulative savings ranked from greatest to smallest

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