UK won’t meet net-zero without farmer support and new nature skills plan, Lords warn

Despite strong talk around nature-based solutions, the UK Government is not properly planning to deliver them at scale and in a manner that engages the nation's farming communities and wider population, the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee is warning.

UK won’t meet net-zero without farmer support and new nature skills plan, Lords warn

Skills shortages are hampering the delivery of forest and peatland schemes

The Committee has today (27 December) published a report detailing the findings of its research into the UK Government’s approach to delivering key climate and environmental targets in tandem, including net-zero by 2050 and the 25-Year Environment Plan.

As several reports have done before, the ultimate conclusion is that not enough action is being taken on either front – partly because of failures to deliver a joined-up approach to delivery across different departments.

The report states that members of the Committee have received acknowledgement from the central Government that the nation does not, at present, have an appropriately skilled workforce to deliver nature-based solutions at the scale and pace promised. Nature-based solutions are projects which improve outcomes for biodiversity and climate, including the creation or regeneration of habitats such as peatlands and forests.

Despite this acknowledgement, the Committee states that its efforts to ask the Government for assessing the skills gap and delivering the appropriate training in the appropriate timescales have not resulted in any new information. Its report raises concerns over skills gaps in specialisms including ecology, forests and peatlands.

Earlier this month, the Government shelved recommendations on green jobs and skills from MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee, including the creation of a National Nature Service. Such a Service would see conservation organisations receiving funding and support to train and employ the unemployed.

Farmer engagement

The new Lords’ report also argues that farmers and land managers are not yet supportive, in general, of the Government’s plans for implementing nature-based solutions on farms.

A key remaining concern among these groups, the report states, is whether the Government has conducted sufficient scientific research to quantify the carbon sequestration benefits of different nature-based schemes, as this information has not yet been made available to farmers and landowners through the Agriculture Bill. This concern has already been put to the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) by the Public Accounts Committee.

The new Lords report also states that farmers and landowners are likely to distrust Defra due to past delays, including with payments, and ongoing delays relating to the publication of more information on the Environmental Land Management (ELM) package, which is replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-Brexit in terms of farmer payment.

Defra recently launched the Basic Payment Scheme under the ELM package, as well as the Local Nature Recovery scheme and Landscape Recovery scheme. The former will pay farmers for conserving and restoring soils and grasslands, while the latter pair cover actions that deliver biodiversity gain. All three announcements received a lukewarm reaction.

As trade bodies and MPs have already done, the new Lords’ report specifically asks Defra for more information on how farmers will be supported to balance competing demands for land use, such as food production and nature creation, in a way that does not have unintended negative environmental consequences. Particular concerns of organisations including the NFU include increased food imports, potentially from countries with lower environmental and animal welfare standards.

edie has reached out to Defra for its initial response to the Lords’ report.

“While the Government’s plans for nature-based solutions are ambitious and have much potential to help the UK achieve net-zero by 2050 as well as restore its natural environment, these plans are at severe risk of failure – they will not work without the support of farmers and land managers, and investment in the skills needed to restore nature,” said the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee’s chair Lord Patel.

“In the UK, 72% of land is agricultural, so it is essential that farmers are fully engaged and supported by the Government. This support must take the form of incentives; training; an advisory service; and support to adapt to changes in farming methods, subsidies, and land use. Key decisions must be made about how the UK should use its land and the role of nature and carbon markets in supporting nature restoration.”

Patel added that, unless the UK makes a “renewed policy effort” in 2022, it risks its reputation as host of COP26. The UK will retain its COP presidency until COP27 begins in Egypt this November.

edie’s Business Guide to green policy in 2022 

edie has this week launched a new business guide summarising how green policy developments in the UK over the last 12 months have reshaped efforts to deliver net-zero emissions and restore nature. 

From the overarching Net-Zero Strategy and the long-awaited Environment Bill, through to Sector Deals for renewable energy and rules around nonfinancial reporting – businesses have witnessed a plethora of significant green policy updates and new regulatory frameworks over the past 12 months, with even more developments expected in 2022.

Produced in association with PHS, this new, free-to-download guide summarises all the key developments you need to be aware of. Click here to download your copy. 

Sarah George

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