Government advisers call for radical changes, including turning farmland into forests
Spring leaf growth on young birch trees, protected in plastic tubes, on the North York Moors.
Tree planting must double by 2020 as part of radical changes to land use in the UK, according to the government's advisers on climate change.
New forests would lock up carbon but also help to limit the more frequent floods expected with global warming.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said land currently used to produce food would need to be converted to woodland, growing crops to produce energy and for new homes to accommodate the growing population. Up to 17% of cropland and 30% of grassland could be converted, the report says.
Protecting and restoring peatland, a huge store of carbon, is also vital, as is ensuring no food waste went to landfill by 2025, but is instead used to generate energy, it adds.
The CCC said that for decades food production had been rewarded with subsidies ahead of other public goods that land could provide, but that Brexit provided an opportunity to reward landowners for helping to fight climate change and its impacts as well as supporting wildlife.
"The incremental changes seen in the past to how we use land is not enough," said Chris Stark, the CCC chief executive. "There is a window now to have a more radical policy."
He said intensive farming and global warming were damaging soil and wildlife. "The land is suffering," Stark said. "We are not saying farmers need to go out of business, we are saying that we need a different approach which is equally [profitable] if government policy supports it."
The environment secretary, Michael Gove, said in January: "After a transition, we will replace [subsidies for owning land] with a system of public money for public goods."
The CCC report says the government should increase tree planting from 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres) per year to 20,000ha by 2020, then triple it to 27,000ha by 2030. This would bolster forest cover from 13% of the UK to 19% by 2050. "There are government plans to increase planting rates, but the plans have not been funded and to date the targets have been missed," Stark said.
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