Transforming how we use land is an essential part of our response to Climate emergency. Great progress could be made rapidly in agriculture, forestry and other land uses by using existing technologies. But we will need to go further to support a transition in the rural economy at the rate and scale required.
The Society’s Climate Summits have been invaluable in bringing many leading people together to work on solutions to the climate emergency. We know that society is going to be transformed by the impacts of climate change. If we are to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change, we have to address the triple challenge: to reduce emissions; adapt to our future climate; and, restore nature. A nature-rich future is the only response to the climate emergency which addresses all three challenges and achieves much needed resilience against future societal shocks.
Covid-19 has hammered home our lack of resilience. This pandemic originated from an unhealthy relationship between the human world and the natural world. It has led to disease jumping and mutating from species to species. This same unhealthy relationship is degrading nature across the planet and driving climate change. Therefore, it follows that ensuring society is more resilient against future pandemics must involve tackling the climate and nature crises.
I am sure it’s clear to all of us here that land is an essential part of our response to the climate emergency. Looking at the land use sector as a whole, nature-based solutions are one of our primary tools to absorb some of the carbon in the atmosphere, whether that is through restoring our extensive peatlands and managing our uplands more sustainably, planting more woodland – as well as allowing more native woodland to regenerate, while supporting transformative change to low carbon agriculture.
There has been a stronger focus on agriculture, forestry and other land uses in recent years. But significant challenges remain – for forestry, in terms of the time it takes for new woodlands to mature into carbon sinks; for agriculture in how we manage our soils and livestock, to a more comprehensive review of our food system, what we eat and how it is produced and distributed.
And we know that over 70% of our peatlands are degraded and are a source of emissions. The ambition to escalate significant action on peatland restoration will be a challenge to scale up quickly.
Great progress could be made rapidly in agriculture, forestry and other land uses by using existing technologies. But policies, practices, consumer and producer behaviours will all need to change to support a transition in the rural economy at the rate and scale required.
We have many good examples of best practice, where land managers are taking action to protect and restore nature, reducing emissions and using land to sequester and store carbon. There is a real opportunity to build on these great examples to make sure that land managers can be the champions of climate change, and not only the victims of it.
But, I hope today we can look at how we can restore nature at the same time as responding to the climate emergency. Would it be a hollow victory if we slash our emissions yet in doing so fail to restore ecological abundance?
We know that many of the actions that we take for the climate can have positive benefits for biodiversity too – but this is not a given. Careful choices must be made to ensure that we restore habitats. This is not just about peatlands and the right tree in the right place. It is also thinking about improving connectivity between our increasingly fragmented habitats, effectively providing an escape route for important animals and plants from the impacts of climate change.
Finally, we know that climate change is one of the biggest issues we face.
Encouraging ecological diversity has to be the solution to the twin and chronic crises of nature losses and climate heating. If our natural world can become more resilient, then it follows resilience will grow across our economy and society, protecting us from acute emergencies such as the recent pandemic. Changes to land use to increase the space for nature with more networks of nature-rich areas will undoubtedly support resilient natural systems and community well-being.