The United Kingdom and Sweden are paving the way for negative emissions from land use

Two public reports on land use contribution to climate mitigation have recently been published showing the case for bioenergy as a driver towards a climate-friendly use of land. Bioenergy not only provides direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by providing renewable and low carbon energy, but also provides economic incentives to land uses enhancing carbon absorption capacity.

  • In the United Kingdom, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an advisory body created under the Climate Change Act, published last month its report “Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK”. This report explores the ways the UK can transform the current agricultural practices and land use in order to become carbon neutral by 2050.
  • At the same time, the Swedish government published “The pathway to a climate positive future – strategy and action plan for achieving negative greenhouse gas emissions after 2045”. This strategy details the additional measures needed besides emission mitigation towards net zero in 2045 to achieve negative emissions.

Both reports provide extensive details on how land use change can help to reach their national GHG emissions targets. Besides the different starting points, climate conditions and availability of land, we can find common patterns to achieve negative emissions from land use. These practices can be extrapolated and re-adapted by other countries to other countries to grant the fulfilment of the no-debit principle established in the Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) Regulation and the carbon neutrality by 2050:

  1. Forest management and afforestation are key. The CCC proposes to increase UK’s forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% in 2050 by planting around 30,000 hectares (90 – 120 million trees) of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year. In Sweden, the Government plans to devote 100,000 hectares to be used for afforestation. Promoting at the same time forest management in 50,000 hectares of land in a later stage of natural overgrowth, to foster further development. At European level, in the last 15 years forests have increased the equivalent of the size of Portugal, covering nowadays 2/5 of European land. Sustainable forest management increases the capacity of absorption while mobilising biomass, reducing fire risks, improving soil quality and contributing to local economies.
  2. Restoration of peatlands. Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store and their drainage releases an enormous amount of carbon to the atmosphere. Wet farming in organic soil (paludiculture) for biomass not only avoids the release of GHG emissions from the drainage but also provides an economic incentive for farmers to switch from dry to wet agriculture. Food and non-food crops that can grow in water, for example, reeds, sphagnum and blueberries. Reeds can be used for bioenergy production and further reduce GHG emissions by substituting fossil fuel. Currently, there are pilot projects rewetting land with bioenergy uses in Germany, Belarus, Ukraine and Romania. In Sweden, the government aims to create incentives to rewet 100,000 hectares of forest land and 10,000 hectares of former agricultural land on peatland previously drained for farming and forestry, up to 2040.
  3. Encouraging bioenergy crops. The CCC proposes to plant 23,000 new hectares of energy crops per year up to 0.7 million hectares by 2050, including miscanthus on existing cropland and short rotation coppice (SRC) and short rotation forestry (SRF) in existing grassland. Sweden is planning an increase in the use of catch crops and cover crops on 400,000 hectares and agroforestry on 50,000 hectares, with 40,000 hectares of agricultural land taken out of production devoted to energy crop cultivation, mainly Salix and Poplar. At European level, all scenarios from A Clean Planet for all – A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy foresee an increase in agricultural biomass for energy by 2050 in all scenarios. this trend is particularly sharp for lignocellulosic grass and short rotation coppice.

All EU policies need to be aligned to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides a unique window of opportunity to adapt the use of land to the upcoming 2030 and 2050 GHG emissions targets, applying innovative techniques and approaches. The United Kingdom and Sweden are well known for their leadership in climate action, and their experience in the contribution of land use to mitigation policies should be considered for the CAP Strategic Plans and other national policies enabling carbon neutrality.