WWF-UK – Written evidence (NSD0022)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

  1. WWF is the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. Our mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together. To achieve our mission, we're finding ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas; pushing for a reduction in carbon emissions that will avoid catastrophic climate change; and pressing for measures to help people live sustainably, within the means of our one planet.

 

  1. WWF works in the UK as well as globally on promoting high-quality nature-based solutions (NbS) to tackle the interrelated challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable development, developing science-based guidance on the best interventions, as well as advocating for policy changes and the increased inclusion of high-quality nature-based solutions in national climate targets and international policy processes. As such, we welcome the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry and would be happy to provide additional information, further testimony or an expert witness, should it be helpful to the inquiry.

 

  1. This submission does not seek to answer all questions of the inquiry, just those where our policy work has direct relevance.

 

SUMMARY

 

  1. We know that a global temperature rise of anything beyond 1.5 degrees will be catastrophic for people and for wildlife. Nature is our greatest ally in the fight against climate breakdown. We must champion and embrace nature’s vital role in helping deliver a 1.5°C world. As COP26 hosts, the UK Government must use their leadership role to put land use, agriculture and nature-based solutions at the forefront of global plans to address emissions and tackle the climate and nature crisis. In this crucial year for climate, nature, and food, it is critical to shift from a piecemeal to an integrated approach to NbS and to sustainable agriculture. Focusing only on protecting and restoring natural habitats will fail if, at the same time, the pressures of unsustainable production and consumption on land and at sea are not addressed, especially in the food and agricultural sector.

 

WWF RESPONSE

 

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

 

  1. WWF believes that the potential for nature-based solutions to tackle the interrelated crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable development is significant so long as they are implemented in addition to an accelerated phase-out of fossil fuels and an urgent decarbonisation of our economies.

 

  1. According to a recent report by WWF and RSPB[1], underpinned by new analysis from the University of Aberdeen with inputs from the University of Oxford, on the role of investing in nature in an ambitious UK 2030 NDC and towards the UK’s mid-century net-zero target, protecting existing carbon stocks will secure 16,231 Mt CO2e, equivalent to over 36 years of UK emissions at 2018 levels. It also finds that nature can provide additional climate change mitigation of 75-123 Mt CO2e by 2030 and 278-492 Mt CO2e by 2050.

 

  1. However, it needs to be stressed that to maximise the potential of nature-based solutions, it is critical to eliminate a series of systemic barriers (such as unsustainable supply chains, harmful agricultural subsidies and a lack of finance) while at the same time unlocking a series of systemic enablers. Those systemic enablers can be policy or business actions, which lead to systemic change that removes barriers holding back at-scale NbS or unlocks NbS at scale. The finance system, the market system, and the governance system are particularly important in this regard.

 

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

 

  1. The UK has a diverse range of habitats with strong potential for carbon sequestration from upland and lowland peat to native broadleaf woodland, permanent pasture and marine and coastal habitats. Peatlands cover around 12% of the UK by area, sequestering billions of tonnes of carbon, but only 22% remains in a ‘near-natural’ state that is, acting as a secure and growing store of carbon.[2]

 

  1. In order for land in the UK to be a net carbon-sink, ambitious action must be taken to reduce emissions from agriculture, while restoring nature across farmed landscapes. WWF is therefore calling for a new vision for UK landscapes, with a nature-positive approach to net zero[3] and explicit targets for the agriculture and land use sectors. These targets are that:

 

  1. All parts of the UK should commit to a nature-positive pathway to reaching these targets, aiming to make farming itself a nature-based solution. This means prioritising actions that also support the recovery of nature, over pathways which lead to significant negative trade-offs in these areas. WWF also seeks to prioritise a pathway based where possible on regenerative approaches to agriculture, highlighting that solutions and pathways will vary across landscapes and seascapes and recognising the important role of technology and dietary shifts.

 

  1. To accomplish these targets the UK will need to focus on the following key areas for NbS, alongside other elements of decarbonising our food and farming sector in a nature-positive way:

 

  1. Marine sediments are the largest pool of organic carbon on the planet and a crucial reservoir for long-term storage.[8] A recent study from Scotland found the inshore MPA network is estimated to hold over 55 million tonnes (Mt) of blue carbon (9.4 Mt of organic carbon and 47.8 Mt of inorganic carbon). To put this into context, the total blue carbon within the inshore MPA network equates to 210.8 Mt CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) which is equivalent to four years of Scotland’s annual greenhouse gas emission estimated at 53 Mt CO2e.[9]

 

  1. Coastal habitats like seagrass meadows and saltmarshes play a vital and significant role in carbon sequestration and storage, with the potential to capture up to 137 MtCO2e with an economic value of around £9.4bn by 2050. It is thought that the UK has lost 85% of its saltmarsh, 95% of its native oyster reefs and 90% of its seagrass meadows. Protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems will preserve and prolong the flood defence benefits they provide – which would save an estimated £6.2 billion in spending on artificial flood defences by 2050, protecting our coastal communities from rising sea levels and increasingly frequent, powerful storms, as well as benefitting the creation of new jobs locally to deliver that restoration.[10] It is not only coastal habitats that play an important role in carbon storage; a recent report produced by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) on behalf of Defra highlights the dominance of the shelf seabed as a carbon store and its potential to sequester carbon and store it long term.[11]

 

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?

 

  1. WWF along with Blue Marine Foundation and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust expect to publish a report in September mapping the blue carbon assets in the English North Sea, using a methodology first developed and used to map blue carbon in the Scottish Inshore Marine protected Area Network.[12] WWF have also committed to further mapping the remaining UK marine waters. The map of blue carbon assets should be used to inform future management of the sea to ensure blue carbon habitats and carbon stocks are managed effectively.

 

2. 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?

 

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

 

  1. There is a huge amount of information currently available which highlights the importance of marine habitats and sediments as nature-based solutions and we know that marine sediments are the largest pool of organic carbon on the planet and a crucial reservoir for long-term storage[13]. We need to effectively manage, protect and restore these habitats now, rather than wait for a ‘perfect’ understanding of their ability to sequester greenhouse gasses. That being said, there are substantial knowledge gaps which need further research. A recent report from CEFAS provides an assessment of the status of the evidence base for 6 blue carbon habitats in the UK[14]. The evidence for accumulation rates across all 6 habitats was assessed as Low, and the evidence for all but two habitats stocks were also assessed as Low. In order to accelerate our understanding of these habitats and their contribution, we need a strategic and coordinated approach to evidence collection and research. WWF along with Blue Marine Foundation and the Yorkshire Wildlife trust have established a UK Blue Carbon Forum to bring all major players involved in blue carbon evidence together in order to support joined up thinking and collaboration going forward.

 

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

 

  1. Nature-based solutions must abide by stringent definitions and standards, to counter any attempt at greenwashing and ensure they really are successful and sustainable. To deliver benefits for climate, biodiversity and people, NbS must be designed effectively and delivered based on robust definitions and principles. Clear definitions and principles are also useful to avoid and call out “false solutions” and demonstrate what really constitutes successful and sustainable NbS. In addition, more robust principles will help to unlock investment, avoid bad investments, and ensure that credible, high-quality projects receive funding.

 

  1. The IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions[15] has been developed to help NbS practitioners design, implement and review NbS projects. The “four guidelines for sustainable, successful NbS[16]” look at NbS in the context of climate change, and outline four principles for delivering effective NbS to climate change with long-term benefits for nature and people:

 

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

 

  1. WWF have partnered withYorkshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, the University of Leeds, the United Bank of Carbon, Woodland Trust and local communities to restore over1150 hectaresaroundIngleborough in the Yorkshire Dales, including planting 30,000 trees in the area over the next year. This partnership will draw on the wisdom and support of local people, including landowners, farmers and communities, to support low intensity farming, restore wildlife-friendly habitats,and share skills and knowledge, making ‘Wild Ingleborough’ a flagship example of how the UK’s uplands can be transformed to restore natureandtackle the climate crisis and support a thriving local economy. We would be delighted to provide more details on this ongoing work if useful.

 

  1. WWF has also been working with Sky Ocean Rescue and Swansea University to plant seagrass meadows off the coast in Wales, launching the biggest seagrass restoration project ever undertaken in the UK. Up to 92 per cent of our seagrass in the UK has disappeared in the last century. However, seagrass is vital to the health of our seas – providing an important nursery for endangered wildlife such as seahorses, and many of the fish we eat, including cod, plaice and pollock – and can help address environmental problems, capturing carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. By using this model, the Government could bring back these lush underwater meadows and become a global leader in restoring ocean health and combating climate change.

 

  1. Furthermore, WWF, jointly with a range of other environment and development organisations, has published a recent report entitled: “Nature-based Solutions in Action: Lessons from the Frontline. Harnessing nature to address the triple emergency of poverty, climate change, and biodiversity loss”[17]. This report showcases 13 examples of high-quality Nature-based Solutions in action across the world, and how they are improving lives, benefiting the environment and driving climate action. This includes a case study on managing flood risk in the UK, a Farmers’ Seed Network in China that supports agroecology by conserving traditional seeds, as well as large-scale watershed management in glacial mountain ecosystems in Peru. The report also identifies a series of key success factors and policy recommendations.

 

4. 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?

 

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

 

  1. Action to meet emissions targets for agriculture and land use must be shaped with and for the people living and working in these landscapes, and farmers and landowners must be given the support they need on what will be a difficult transition, through future farm payment systems, bank lending and core environmental standards for imports as well as domestic produce. This includes at least £3bn/yr in public money as part of redesigned agricultural subsidy regimes such as the Environmental Land Management (ELM) Scheme.[18]

 

  1. WWF believes the ELM should:

 

  1. Alternative land-uses, including greater roll-out of nature-based solutions, are clearly part of Defra’s proposals for ELM, and we welcome Tier 3 as the most transformative and world-leading part of ELM. This should provide coherence with the Nature Recovery Network and Local Nature Recovery Strategies, among other schemes. ELM policies should be integrated and holistic to avoid both offshoring the environmental impact of the UK food footprint and to manage domestic trade-offs, for example between afforestation and biodiversity.

 

  1. WWF is advocating stakeholder-led processes to prioritise environmental objectives and how to optimise their delivery in respect of country and catchment plans. However, it will be important that the ELM scheme does contribute to each of the 25 Year Environment Plan goals (including thriving plants and wildlife) and local and national levels. The nature of ELM options and the payment rates/methodologies for delivering them are obviously crucial to success.

 

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?

 

  1. There are two ongoing coastal NbS implementations that WWF has been involved with that have experienced success in engaging and involving coastal communities in seagrass restoration that we wish to highlight as examples.

 

  1. The first is ‘Seeds of Hope’ – a joint effort between WWF, Project Seagrass, Sky Ocean Rescue and Swansea University to pilot seagrass restoration efforts in Pembrokeshire. An aim of restoring 20,000m2 of seagrass meadow required huge collaborative effort. Over the course of the project, 2,000 volunteers aged 3-75 helped harvest, process and plant the seeds, which are now showing encouraging signs of germination in Dale Bay.

 

  1. The second is ‘Seawilding’[19] - a Native Oyster and Seagrass restoration project in Loch Craignish, Argyll. Seawilding is community led with the aims of restoring 1m native oysters and enhancing existing meadows in the loch. Longer term, the project will develop low-cost methodologies/resources to roll out native oyster restoration/seagrass restoration at scale to other coastal communities. The project represents an example of what can be achieved for coastal NbS when the triumvirate of a restoration opportunity, an empowered and engaged community and capacity and resources to deliver are present at the same time.

 

  1. Both projects are pioneers of a restoration approach that could be replicated across the UK, allowing coastal restoration efforts to scale from handfuls to hundreds of hectares. Despite this potential, each have had to contend with barriers to delivery in the form of complex and onerous licensing regimes, limited funds and investment and the lack of a legislative enabling environment for large-scale restoration projects.

 

5. 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?

 

  1. The design and implementation of NbS have traditionally focused on specific projects in specific places. This spotlight on “project level” interventions is welcome to demonstrate what successful, sustainable NbS look like. However, boosting these conservation efforts alone will not be enough to effectively deliver benefits for climate, biodiversity, and people over the long term. In fact, stand-alone investments in many different NbS projects can become inefficient if the pressures of unsustainable production and consumption are not addressed, especially if we consider the agriculture and land-use sectors.

 

  1. Successfully protecting, sustainably managing and restoring landscapes requires a change of political narrative, and the delivery of three systemic enablers related to finance, market leadership and inclusive governance (see illustration at the bottom of this document). High-impact, large-scale NbS will be effective only if actions are taken simultaneously within those systems, alongside efforts to protect and restore natural habitats.

 

  1. At a domestic, and programmatic level, we cannot focus solely on emissions reductions in the land use and agriculture sectors, at the expense of restoring nature and producing sustainable, nutritious food. The best solutions to tackling climate change in UK landscapes will come from mainstreaming environmentally conscious methods across agriculture and protecting and restoring habitats that are rich in nature as well as carbon.

 

  1. It is therefore critical to apply a nature-positive approach to climate action which prioritises pathways that address the biodiversity crisis and supports a green recovery from COVID-19, over pathways with greater risk for significant negative impacts in these areas (such as large-scale bioenergy/bioenergy carbon capture and storage).

 

  1. At the same time, important decisions will need to be made on trade-offs that will emerge as we move on the journey to net zero. These include, for example:

 

  1. The delivery of these commitments will be difficult and involve both win-win solutions and trade-offs that vary across the UK. All sectors and indeed governments around the UK should be open and honest about these.

 

  1. The ability to meet net zero in agriculture and land use will also be different for each part of the UK and each nation should be free to deliver its contribution to net zero and to help meet these overall targets.

 

  1. The role of technology and innovation can help unlock some of these opportunities and resolve trade-offs, while building local economic opportunities. For example, the use of feed supplements including seaweed in livestock could reduce methane, reduce reliance on deforestation-causing soy imports and capture carbon in UK waters.

 

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

 

  1. Nature-based solutions are recognised as a key tool to address the interrelated crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and unsustainable development, if implemented in addition to an accelerated phase-out of fossil fuels and an urgent decarbonisation of our economies. Focusing only on protecting and restoring natural habitats will fail if at the same time, the pressures of unsustainable production and consumption are not addressed, especially in the food and agricultural sector. Meeting the triple challenge will require massively scaled-up deployment of nature-based solutions, to protect, manage and restore natural capital. Successfully protecting, sustainably managing and restoring landscapes requires a change of political narrative, and the delivery of three systemic enablers related to finance, market leadership and inclusive governance (see illustration at the bottom of this document). High-impact, large-scale NbS will be effective only if actions are taken simultaneously within those systems, alongside efforts to protect and restore natural habitats.

 

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?

 

  1. With regards to the management, protection and restoration of ocean and coastal ecosystems that host or act as NbS, the most relevant current strategy is the UK Marine Strategy (UKMS). The UKMS is the framework for delivering marine policy at the UK level and sets out how the vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas will be achieved. It comprises a 3-stage framework for achieving good environmental status (GES) in our seas by 2024.

 

  1. Achieving GES is about protecting the marine environment, preventing its deterioration and restoring it where practical, while allowing sustainable use of marine resources. In the UKMS, the third stage is a ‘programme of measures’ whereby interventions that will move the UK towards GES are laid out. The UK government considers many of the measures laid out in the most recent draft (currently under public consultation) to be marine NbS.

 

  1. WWF’s assessment of the 2021 proposed programme of measures is ongoing at the time of submission but initial analysis suggests better coordination is needed and eminently achievable. For instance, many interventions to restore coastal habitats in pursuit of achieving GES are limited to single nations, rather than coordinated across the UK. Two examples of where nation-specific measures could be replicated across the UK to scale up ambition on coastal NbS are as follows:

 

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

 

  1. See answer to question 4., sub question: How can farmers (including tenant farmers) and land managers be supported in their deployment of nature-based solutions by policy and legislative frameworks?

 

10 September 2021

 


[1] Nature_Based_Solutions_NDC_ReportV2.pdf (rspb.org.uk)

[2] Peatlands Factsheet, UKCEH

[3] Underpinned by the CCC’s 6th Carbon Budget “Widespread Engagement” scenario. See CEH, Updated Quantification of the impact of future and use scenarios to 2050 and beyond Also see the 6th Carbon Budget, Table 3.6a for a summary of key differences in the agriculture sector scenarios; Table 3.6b for a summary of key differences in the LULUCF sector scenarios. 

[4] On 2020 levels

[5] From Sixth Carbon Budget scenarios for agriculture and land use: encompasses low carbon farming methods, Agricultural machinery, and measure to release land (dietary shifts and reduction in food waste) (6th Carbon budget pp. 164-167))

[6] A full list of relevant WWF policy asks related to Nature Based Solutions in UK climate policy (mitigation) are found here (p12-end)

[7] https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/Nature_Based_Solutions_NDC_ReportV2.pdf

[8] Atwood et al 2020. Global Patterns in Marine Sediment Carbon Stocks. Front. Mar. Sci., 25 March 2020

[9] Burrows, M.T., Hughes, D.J., Austin, W.E.N., Smeaton, C., Hicks, N., Howe, J.A., Allen, C., Taylor, P. & Vare, L.L. 2017. Assessment of Blue Carbon Resources in Scotland’s Inshore Marine Protected Area Network. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 957.

[10] WWF2009-01 Value of restored UK seas report v6 (002).pdf

[11] Ruth Parker, Lisa Benson, Carolyn Graves, Silke Kröger, Rui Vieira (2020) Carbon stocks and accumulation analysis for Secretary of State (SoS) region, Cefas Report for Defra project ME5439, 42 pp.

[12] Burrows, M.T., Hughes, D.J., Austin, W.E.N., Smeaton, C., Hicks, N., Howe, J.A., Allen, C., Taylor, P. & Vare, L.L. 2017. Assessment of Blue Carbon Resources in Scotland’s Inshore Marine Protected Area Network. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 957.

[13] Atwood et al 2020. Global Patterns in Marine Sediment Carbon Stocks. Front. Mar. Sci., 25 March 2020

[14] Ruth Parker, Lisa Benson, Carolyn Graves, Silke Kröger, Rui Vieira Carbon stocks and accumulation analysis for Secretary of State (SoS) region: (2020) Cefas Project Report for Defra, 42 pp

[15] https://www.iucn.org/theme/nature-based-solutions/resources/iucn-global-standard-nbs

[16] https://nbsguidelines.info/

[17] https://www.bond.org.uk/resources/nature-based-solutions-in-action-lessons-from-the-frontline

[18] Based on a figure of £2.86bn/yr over next 10 years identified as needed to delivery environmental land management priorities in the UK, as set out in https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/Paying%20for%20public%20goods%20final%20report.pdf 

[19] https://www.seawilding.org/