National Trust to plant 20 million trees in bid to become net-zero by 2030

Pictured: The National Trust’s director-general Hilary McGrady unveiling the new strategy at the Barbican Centre in London

Launched today (9 January) to align with the charity’s 125th anniversary, the strategy includes a series of new initiatives designed to both minimise the organisation’s operational emissions, and capture remaining emissions using nature-based solutions.

On operational emissions reductions, the strategy re-iterates the National Trust’s existing commitment to invest £35m in onsite renewable generation by February 2021 and confirms that longer-term plans are being developed. During financial year 2018/19, the organisation generated the equivalent of 26% of its energy consumption through its portfolio of renewable arrays.

Energy efficiency measures are also detailed, as is a project aimed at measuring full supply chain emissions for the first time.

But nature-based solutions are the strategy’s stand-out measures. It includes commitments to invest in restoring and conserving carbon-sequestering peat bogs and woodlands and to plant 20 million trees over the next decade.

Once planted, the trees will increase the proportion of the National Trust’s estate covered in forest from 10% to 17%. In context, the charity estimates that the additional forestry will cover an area one-and-a-half times as big as Manchester.

17% is notably the proportion of land across the UK which the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended should be forest if the UK is to reach its 2050 net-zero target. The National Trust, therefore, is using the launch of its own strategy to call on the Government to boost investment in forests, after Defra figures published last year revealed that spending in this area has been falling since 2014.

“Woodlands help with flood prevention, they provide a natural habitat for all sorts of nature and wildlife, and they are the backdrop to the adventures of future generations,” The National Trust’s director-general Hilary McGrady said.

“The new Government needs to deliver an Environment Bill with ambitious targets and a properly independent watchdog – because we can only do so much alone. Now, more than ever, the whole environmental movement needs to pull together.”

Public engagement

In addition to meeting its own carbon targets, the National Trust hopes its plans for tree-planting will further its engagement with the UK public and encourage visitors to take further action in their own lives.

To that end, the charity has published a year-long programme of events spanning across its portfolio of 500+ sites, including open tree-planting sessions, river and beach cleans, birdwatching and cloud watching workshops, guided nature walks and bike rides, food forages and art sessions.

“Our next chapter… will be about helping millions of people to reconnect with nature and galvanising them to fight with determination and care to save our common treasures,” McGrady said.

“How connected people are to nature predicts how far they will go to care for it.”

McGrady called its planned public communications activities “simple but effective”, adding that further measures will additionally be introduced to keep staff engagement and motivation high.

Beyond its own estate, the Charity will notably use 29 February to call on all individuals, businesses and organisations to make a “leap for nature” for the leap year, making a new environmental commitment.

The small print

The National Trust has been working on carbon reduction for more than a decade, but McGrady said its new plan was developed in response to the climate emergency, calling it “clear”, “ambitious” and “achievable”.

When asked about its scope, McGrady clarified that the net-zero commitment will cover Scope 1 (direct), Scope 2 (power-related) and Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, but that addressing emissions from visitor travel  will likely form part of “phase two” of the plan at a later date.

“We’ve already started to measure what that will look like,” she said, explaining that transport-related emissions from visitors will likely be the “most difficult” to address and will be dealt with “separately”.

Explaining the decision to take this approach, McGrady said the charity was beginning where the “greatest [environmental] gain for the lowest investment” – namely across its estate, in its financial activities and, latterly, through its supply chain.

On finance, launch of the new net-zero strategy is the National Trust’s first major sustainability-related announcement since the charity vowed last July to divest entirely from fossil fuels by July 2022. Before it made this commitment, the organisation had around £40m invested in fossil fuel firms – an amount which represented 4% of its total £1bn+ portfolio of stock market investments.

Given that carbon offsetting is proving to be one of the most controversial discussions points around net-zero, edie asked for clarification on its position in the National Trust’s new strategy.

The charity’s director of land and nature Mark Harold said his team are taking a “deliberately really careful” approach to offsetting.

“We won’t be selling any of our carbon at this stage, so there is a definite net-gain for any benefits we deliver,” Harold explained. “The exception to this might be if we look at acquisitions.”

Sarah George

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