Professor Ian Bateman, University of Exeter – Written evidence (NSD0011)

 

Professor Ian Bateman, Director at Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), Department of Economics, University of Exeter Business School

 

Q1. What is the potential scale of the contribution that nature-based solutions can make to decarbonisation in the UK?

A: While Nature Based Solutions (NbS) are a very important element of the humanity’s response to the challenge of Climate Change they cannot provide a complete solution to that challenge. The speed of global warming and the inexorable rise of emissions will only be tackled when we reduce those emissions. The variety of approaches available to address that emission reduction are now well established (IPCC, 2019). However, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC, 2019) note that, alongside emission reductions via changes to energy use and generation, residual emissions from sectors such as aviation and agriculture necessitate large-scale direct Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) from the atmosphere. NbS, specifically land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) are central to GGR and the CCC note that “The UK’s net-zero target will not be met without changes in how we use our land” (CCC, 2020).

 

Q1.1: Which ecosystems are most relevant to the UK for nature-based solutions, and which have the largest potential to sequester carbon or reduce emissions?

A: While there are a range of NbS, the role of trees is central to GGR strategy. Forestry combines the highest CO2 removal potential with lowest per tonne costs and greatest technology readiness level (R. Soc. & R. Acad. Eng., 2018). The Royal Society report estimates that afforesting 1.2 million ha of the UK could remove up to 15 MtCO2 per annum. While this falls well short of the target necessary to attain net zero, when combined with emission reduction strategies this provides a pathway to delivery of the Government’s commitment. Furthermore, it is likely that the net benefits of such schemes can be significantly enhanced (see subsequent responses).

 

Q1.2: How much of the UK’s ‘hard-to-mitigate’ emissions can be offset by nature-based solutions? How much of the UK’s land and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) coastal areas would need to be managed to achieve this, and what level of investment would be required?

A: As outlined above, the Royal Society report estimates that afforesting 1.2 million ha of the UK could remove up to 15 MtCO2 per annum (R. Soc. & R. Acad. Eng., 2018).

 

Q1.3: How do the costs and benefits (including co-benefits), of implementing nature-based solutions compare to other techniques for offsetting ‘hard-to-decarbonise’ sectors?

A: Attaining net zero requires two actions: (i) massive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; (ii) direct greenhouse gas removals from the atmosphere to balance those ‘hard-to-decarbonise’ sectors such as aviation and agriculture.

 

In cost-benefit terms, if we only consider greenhouse gas flux then emission reduction is more net beneficial than NbS. However, as noted above, emissions reduction is insufficient to attain net zero and therefore has to be complemented by greenhouse gas removal. NbS options generally perform well as strategies for such greenhouse gas removals, with forestry providing the most cost-effective (i.e. lowest cost per tonne) option. Indeed, while research is still ongoing , if the full gamut of costs and benefits (including co-benefits) are included it seems likely that woodland options generate the highest levels of net benefits of any NbS option, delivering not only long term greenhouse gas removal at scale but also habitat to address and reverse the challenge of biodiversity loss, improvements in water quality and reductions in flood risk, superb recreation benefits and allied physical and mental health benefits, wellbeing benefits for disadvantaged communities.

 

Q2. What major scientific uncertainties persist in understanding the effects of nature-based solutions and affect their inclusion in carbon accounting, and how can these uncertainties be addressed?

A: The major uncertainties concern:

 

1.              How the diverse benefits and costs of woodland (and other) NbS options vary across locations as well as over time, i.e. how altering where (and when) we plant trees and the types of trees planted changes:

       the speed and level of greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere

       the costs, including the forgone production of food from planted areas

       co-benefits including habitat to address and reverse the challenge of biodiversity loss, improvements in water quality and reductions in flood risk, recreation benefits and allied physical and mental health benefits, wellbeing benefits for disadvantaged communities.

 

2.              All of the above benefits and costs change as the location of planting changes. We have the scientific and economic knowledge to bring this information into decision making – but Government has to be open to this

 

3.              How the economic, institutional and practical challenges deterring land owners from engaging in woodland and other NbS can be overcome

 

Q2.1: How reliable are the estimates of the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions reduction or sequestration by nature-based solutions, as well as the duration and reliability of storage?

A: The Royal Society estimates are the best available – however I think they would themselves acknowledge that there is room for improvement here. Perhaps the two major issues are:

       Those estimates were not optimised across different locations, species and planting times. This is likely to downwardly influence estimates on the net greenhouse gas removal

       Those estimates were also not detailed with regard to the consequences that tree planting might have on other sources of greenhouse gas emissions such as agriculture and induced changes in food imports/exports. This is, overall, likely to reduce the net effectiveness of trees for greenhouse gas removal

 

The magnitude of these influences is very much a focus of ongoing research

 

Q2.2: Which bodies should be involved in establishing an agreed evidence base to inform best-practice techniques for restoring peatlands?

No response

 

Q2.3: To what extent do we understand the capacity of the oceans and coastal ecosystems to sequester greenhouse gases through nature-based solutions?

A: While there has been extensive research in this area there remain several key unanswered questions. For example, there remains significant difference of opinion on the effectiveness of marine sea-grass restoration as a carbon removal mechanism. Linked to this there is poor understanding of the linkage between terrestrial land use and such sea-grasses. The issue of the extent to which public subsidies of agricultural land use are supporting the loss or suppression of sea grasses and their carbon storage potential is an open empirical question.

 

Q3. What frameworks already exist for the regulation and financing of nature-based solutions?

 

Q3.1: What can be learned from the implementation of the Woodland and Peatland Codes for the regulation and financing of nature-based solutions?

A: The main learning point will be how ineffective these schemes are likely to be next to the overwhelming influence of agricultural subsidies. Until we have funding on a comparable scale, or at very least until that existing agricultural funding is freely opened up for greenhouse gas removal schemes then we will continue to struggle to hit planting levels consistent with meeting net zero commitments.

 

Q3.2: Are there good examples of nature-based solutions already being undertaken in the UK or elsewhere, and what can we learn from them?

A: Internationally the lessons from Costa Rica and REDD+ need to be learned. Within the UK some of the most innovative work has been the use of Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) schemes, particularly those funded by the water industry (e.g. the South West Water ‘Upstream Thinking’ initiative). These have brought private landowners into land use and land management schemes which have benefited the private sector, the landowner and wider society (e.g. paying farmers to invest in low pollution technology, thereby reducing water treatment costs and improving river quality).

 

Q3.3: How should a hybrid public-private financing model be regulated? How should any carbon offsetting markets be regulated to ensure that they prioritise and support well-designed and effective nature-based solutions?

A: The OfWat model is a good starting point but even there the focus on capital expenditure alone should be broadened.

 

Q3.4: How can we ensure that the carbon accountancy is science-based, robust, and consistent across nature-based solutions?

A: Good science has to be the basis here and there is still work to do. For example, the NetZeroPlus programme is significantly expanding the measurement of carbon exchange both within and outside woodlands and developing new remote sensing approaches to provide consistently updated measures of LULUCF and related greenhouse gas removal. These data need to be linked through to decision support systems such as NEV (Day et al., 2020)

 

Q4. Who are the key stakeholders for the implementation of nature-based solutions in the UK? How can stakeholders’ expertise and concerns inform the incentives and requirements for implementing nature-based solutions?

 

Q4.1: How can farmers (including tenant farmers) and land managers be supported in their deployment of nature-based solutions by policy and legislative frameworks?

A: This will not work without adequate incentives. The current massive inequality between subsidies for farming and those for NbS in general and tree planting in particular has to change before the level of afforestation commensurate with net zero is attained.

 

Q4.2: Are there examples of projects which have engaged with stakeholders and local communities to implement nature-based solutions successfully, and what can we learn from them?

A: At the level needed for net zero? No. There are plenty of small-scale initiatives but nothing that will deliver the scale of change that is needed. This won’t happen until policy and funding changes.

 

Q5. How should implementation of nature-based solutions be integrated with other government policies for landscapes and seascapes, for example, agricultural, forestry, and land-use planning policies?

A: By far the most important requirement for the delivery of net zero via NbS is funding; this is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that this can be delivered at very low or possibly zero net cost by simply aligning the Public Money for Public Goods principle of the Agriculture Bill 2020 with the net zero commitment. If this is done in a way which takes advantage of the variation in net greenhouse gas removal which arises from planting the right tree in the right place then that commitment will be met and NbS will have played a major part in that success (and generated major co-benefits). But without such a change this initiative will not work; it is as simple as that.

 

Q5.1: How could nature-based solutions implementation contribute to the UK’s goals surrounding biodiversity, the preservation of nature, and adaptation to climate change?

A: Given the cost-effectiveness of investments such as renewable energy in reducing emissions the main arguments for NbS, alongside the need to deliver greenhouse gas removals alongside emission reductions, are the diverse and valuable co-benefits which NbS can deliver. The use of woodlands to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere can, if those forests are carefully designed and situated, also deliver major co-benefits in terms of reversing biodiversity loss, improving water quality and reducing flood risk, delivering recreation and allied physical and mental health benefits, and improving the wellbeing of the UK’s most disadvantaged groups.

 

This can only be delivered though a system of decision support which shows policy makers the consequences of siting alternative woodlands in different areas. Decision support systems such as NEV (Day et al, 2020) combine natural and physical science with economic and social science to optimise the targeting of public spending to deliver those co-benefits alongside greenhouse gas removal.

 

Q5.2: Which ongoing governmental plans, policies, and strategies are relevant to nature-based solutions, and can they be better coordinated? For example, are the Nature for Climate Fund and associated targets for peatland and forestry restoration designed so as to support nature-based solutions?

A: The Nature for Climate Fund is a good initiative and I am very supportive of it. However, it lacks the decision support to make the most of the funds available to it. Furthermore, its funding represents about 4% of thew annual funding for agriculture. Until that imbalance is addressed (ideally by allowing NbS schemes to be the major focus of agricultural support) schemes such as the Nature for Climate Fund will remain as relatively small-scale operations delivering small scale benefits.

 

Q5.3: Should incentives for nature-based solutions be included in future agri-environment schemes, and if so, how?

Yes! By far the most important requirement for the delivery of net zero via NbS is funding; this is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that this can be delivered at very low or possibly zero net cost by simply aligning the Public Money for Public Goods principle of the Agriculture Bill 2020 with the net zero commitment. If this is done in a way which takes advantage of the variation in net greenhouse gas removal which arises from planting the right tree in the right place then that commitment will be met and NbS will have played a major part in that success (and generated major co-benefits). But without such a change this initiative will not work; it is as simple as that.

 


6. How should nature-based solutions be planned and monitored at the national level?

 

Q6.1: What measuring, reporting, and verification requirements should be put in place to determine the degree of success of nature-based solutions? Which techniques and technologies are best suited to accomplishing robust monitoring?

A: With respect to monitoring - it is incredible that a country like the UK has almost on monitoring of the effect of land use upon net greenhouse gas emissions. The NetZeroPlus programme is significantly expanding the measurement of carbon exchange both within and outside UK woodlands and developing new remote sensing approaches to provide consistently updated measures of LULUCF and related greenhouse gas removal. These data need to be linked through to decision support systems such as NEV (Day et al., 2020)

 

8 September 2021