Farming News - Alternatives to tree planting can achieve equivalent reductions in emissions, FUW tells Plaid Cymru conference

Alternatives to tree planting can achieve equivalent reductions in emissions, FUW tells Plaid Cymru conference

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has outlined how alternatives to tree planting can achieve equivalent reductions in emissions while also delivering a broad range of benefits at the Plaid Cymru conference, which was held on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 October 2023, in Aberystwyth.

Hosting a fringe event on Friday, 6 October 2023, the Union highlighted that tree planting is just one of the many ways in which net Welsh carbon emissions can be reduced.

Presenting the latest available statistics to delegates, the FUW highlighted that in 2019, Welsh energy production was responsible for 10,953,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Offsetting this, Union officials stressed, would require around 1.1 million hectares of land to be planted with trees.

“If all current Welsh emissions were to be offset by tree planting, this would require an area around twice the size of Wales to be planted with trees,” said FUW President Ian Rickman.

There are a number of alternatives that can be adopted on-farm to achieve the equivalent reductions in emissions, and many of these have multiple benefits not only for individual farms but also on Welsh society in general, added Mr Rickman.

“These could include renewable energy production, other forms of carbon storage and sequestration or improving livestock efficiency.

“As we move towards the final consultation phase of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS), we want to see a scheme that looks at farming and climate change as a collective rather than in isolation. For instance, planting trees and offshoring our food production to places with far worse emissions and environmental standards will actually make matters worse on a global level.”

Delegates heard that for large numbers of farms, meeting the 10% tree cover requirement would severely impact on their viability and capacity to produce food, while for certain categories of farm meeting such a requirement would be impossible. Under current proposals, this would prevent them from being able to access any form of support through the SFS.

“We know that the Welsh Government recognised a number of farm types and land categories where meeting this threshold would not be possible - but far more concessions are needed if large numbers of farm businesses are to avoid severe impacts.

“Tree planting is just one of the many ways in which net Welsh carbon emissions can be reduced. We want to see an SFS that has flexibility so farmers can engage with a scheme that works for their businesses and achieves the outcomes Welsh Government are looking for,” said the Union President.

Furthermore, the FUW highlighted that under its plans, the Welsh Government also aims to see Wales meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035. However, as demand for electric vehicles and other alternatives to fossil fuels increases, electricity demand is also set to increase.

“It’s estimated that this will increase demand for electricity in the UK by around 10% of current UK production by 2030, rising to between 20% and 33% by 2050 and increasing production of hydrogen for use as an alternative to fossil fuels in certain vehicles will also increase demand for electricity (which is used to create hydrogen),” said FUW Head of Policy Dr Nick Fenwick.

Delegates also heard that between 1990 and 2020 the contribution of energy supply to the UK and Wales’ GHG emissions fell by 70% and 55% respectively, with renewable energy produced on farmland playing a central role in these reductions.

Since Feed in Tariffs were removed in 2019, on-farm investment into renewable energy production has slowed down significantly. Increasing renewable energy production is critical not only to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also Welsh and UK energy security - the importance of which has been highlighted by the fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Delegates heard that small, sometimes insignificant areas given over to renewable energy production could offset carbon emissions many-fold more efficiently per unit area than tree planting, resulting in increased energy security for farms, communities and Wales as a whole.

“While an increase in tree planting must form part of the solution to climate change, the FUW believes that the proposed 10% tree cover requirement due to be introduced under the Sustainable Farming Scheme from 2025 is one-dimensional and fails to recognise the role of other mitigation measures that would have far less impact on Welsh farms and food production and result in broader benefits for Wales,” added FUW Senior Policy and Communications Officer Gareth Parry.