Climate change facts: On Average each person in the UK emits 10.25 tonnes of CO2 per annum

Saturday 20 January 2018

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Scientists call for more tree planting

New woodland planting

If an extra four per cent of the United Kingdom’s land were planted with new woodland over the next 40 years, it could be locking up ten per cent of the nation’s predicted greenhouse gas emissions by the 2050s.

That’s the view of an expert, independent panel of scientists who today published the first national assessment of the potential of the UK’s forests to mitigate climate change, and of requirements to ensure they can successfully adapt to our new conditions.

The panel, chaired by Professor Sir David Read, recently Vice-President of the Royal Society and currently Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, was tasked by the Forestry Commission to make the assessment – believed to be the first national study of its type in the world.

Speaking at an event in London today to publish the report, Professor Read said:

    “All our research points to the fact that forestry can make a significant and cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets.

    “By increasing our tree cover we can lock up carbon directly. By using more wood for fuel and construction materials we can make savings by using less gas, oil and coal, and by substituting sustainably produced timber for less climate-friendly materials.

    “While so many emissions reduction measures have negative connotations, tree planting can be a win, win, win solution: people love trees, we benefit from them in so many different ways, and now we know they could play a significant part in reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.”

The report suggests that appropriate planting of 23,000 hectares a year – equivalent to about 30,000 football pitches – over 40 years would involve changing the use of only four per cent of the UK’s land. This would mean increasing tree planting by 200 per cent on current levels. It would bring woodland cover in the UK from its current 12 per cent of the land area to 16 per cent, still well below the European average of 37 per cent.

On mitigating climate change, the report says:

    * woodland creation has the potential to provide highly cost-effective and achievable abatement of greenhouse gas emissions compared with potential  options in other sectors;
    * carbon storage in UK forests has been declining as a result of new-planting rates falling and younger forests, which sequester more carbon than older forests, maturing. Stepping up the new woodland planting rate would help to reverse this decline;
    * creating new forests would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, for example, by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which require a high fossil fuel input in their manufacture, and by reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the land;
    * if the market for wood construction products continues to grow at its current rate over the next 10 years, there is the potential to store an estimated additional 10 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon (equivalent to 36.7 Mt CO2) in new and refurbished homes by 2019; and
    * within the next five years, sustainably produced woodfuel has the potential to save the equivalent of approximately seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by replacing fossil fuels. The report says the use of biomass for heating provides one of the most cost-effective and environmentally acceptable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On ensuring that forests are adapted to and can withstand the effects of climate change, the report says that forest planners will need to reconsider the current preference for using native tree species and local provenances under all circumstances. The panel said that if greenhouse gas emissions do not decline, foresters will need to consider introducing new species, including those from continental Europe, to ensure that forests are resilient to changes in the climate. It added that “further research is urgently needed to establish which species will be best suited to the changed environmental conditions”.

The report also states that trees, particularly in towns and cities, have an important role in helping society to adapt to climate change by providing shelter, cooling, shade and controlling rainwater runoff. It says tree and woodland planting should be targeted to places where people live, especially the most vulnerable people, and places where people gather, such as town and local centres which currently have low tree cover.

Further information on the Read report is available at




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