In advance of the IPCC report, the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee produced a report, ‘Nature-based solutions: rhetoric or reality? The potential contribution of nature-based solutions to net zero in the UK’.
The report states that: The term “nature-based solutions” is used to mean working with the grain of nature to achieve a range of benefits, including enhanced biodiversity, flood alleviation, better livelihoods for local communities, and contributing to greenhouse gas reductions, either by storing carbon or by preventing its release.
The Government has ambitious plans for nature-based solutions, but our evidence suggests that these plans are at severe risk of failure for the following reasons.
First, there are significant scientific uncertainties in how much carbon is stored in habitats now, how much can be sequestered by different habitats in the future, and for how long it will remain stored. More research is urgently needed to reduce these uncertainties for all habitats, but especially on farmland and for marine environments. Importantly, nature-based solutions are not just about tree planting. Carbon can be sequestered by many terrestrial and marine habitats and all have a role to play if the Government is to meet its net zero target.
Second, the UK does not have the requisite skills to deliver nature-based solutions at scale. The Government acknowledges this but there has been no formal assessment of the skills needed, nor a route to providing training in the timescales required for a transition over the next decade. The skills deficits range from forestry, ecology, and peatland restoration, to advice for local authorities.
Third, there is huge uncertainty about the details of policies that will incentivise nature-based solutions. The Government has said in broad terms that Environmental Land Management schemes, the new agri-environment subsidy regime, will be a central mechanism for subsidising farmers and other landowners to deliver nature-based solutions, but the details of how these will work have not been developed.
Fourth, more funding is required in several key areas. Funding is needed for research: from practical field monitoring and trials with farmers, to basic science in areas like soil and marine carbon sequestration. Additional funding is needed to support an accelerated skills programme, and key public delivery bodies that will have to provide environmental research, advice and regulations are currently inadequately funded to meet the Government’s targets.
Fifth, those responsible for farming the UK’s land need to be fully engaged; around 72% of the UK’s land is farmed. They need a training and an advisory service to help them negotiate a new and complex funding landscape, and support to change farming methods where appropriate.
Sixth, the Government hopes that private finance will help to fund naturebased solutions, by creating markets for carbon credits that can be used to offset residual emissions, as well as markets for other ecosystem services. However, these markets will only deliver the desired results if they are properly regulated and verified to prevent inaccurate claims of carbon offsetting. Carbon and nature credits must be for benefits that are additional, measurable, and permanent.
Seventh, the Government has not said how it will resolve the many competing demands on the land. Land is used to produce food and timber, to provide space for nature, to alleviate flood risk, to provide space for housing, infrastructure and other development, as well as to sequester and retain carbon.
We recommend that the Government, as a matter of urgency, invests in research, skills training, and delivery of nature-based solutions. At the same time, the Government needs to tell land managers how they will be paid for delivering nature-based solutions, to set out how competing demands on land will be balanced.
The full report can be found here.