To fight climate change, the UK must rewild, state wildlife campaigners

There are many ways in which we, as a country, can go about reducing our carbon emissions to net zero, and in our humble opinion, we should be pursuing all of them. Yet, there is one method that has the ability to captivate the heart and mind more than any other, as it is based around the idea that we should return our green spaces to their most natural selves. This idea is known as ‘rewilding’.

In a new report, named ‘Rewilding and Climate Breakdown: How Restoring Nature can help Decarbonise the UK‘, published by UK-based environmental group Rewilding Britain, it states that to make a significant impact in reducing our net carbon emissions, we need to rewild at least 25% of our landscape. The plan sets its aims at targeting the subsidies that farming communities receive, arguing that they should be redirected onto efforts that support the restoration of wild areas such as peat bogs and marshes, and creating new ones such as biodiverse forests and meadows.

“Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of ecosystems where nature can take care of itself.” The Rewilding Britain page states. “It seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within.”

 

Last year, £3.1billion was spent on agricultural subsidies, with £400million, around 13%, going towards agri-environmental projects. The report by Rewilding Britain suggests that spending on these projects should increase to £1.9billion, which would support the sequestration of an estimated 47.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The amount would be made up of “25.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in new native woodlands, 7.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in species-rich grasslands and 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in peatlands and heaths.” These figures add up to just over a tenth of the current UK CO2 emissions. This is an incredibly large portion, and it’s benefits would not be confined to carbon sequestration. Rewilding large amounts of land has the chance of improving air quality, and greatly improving levels of biodiversity. 

Rewilding Britain’s report calls for three changes to the UK government’s environmental policies:

  1. Integrate carbon sequestration into any new ‘public money for public goods’ mechanisms to incentivise large-scale natural climate solutions.
  2. Establish a mandatory economy-wide carbon pricing mechanism linked to carbon emissions to raise dedicated revenue to help fund natural climate solutions.
  3. Support locally-led partnerships to coordinate action across landholdings to ensure natural climate solutions are designed and brokered locally within each ecological, economic and cultural context.

It also takes aim at rewilding and restoring four key environments that call Britain a home; peatland, woodland, wetland, and marine. The report includes statistics on how much land is used for non-necessities, such as 270,000 hectares being used for golf courses, 1,344,000 hectares used for grouse shooting moors, and 1,830,000 hectares used for deer stalking estates.

The report comes in conjunction with the ratifying of a petition calling to rewild large amounts of Britain, which will now be debated in parliament after it received 100,000 signatures. The petition called for a “bold financial and political commitment to nature’s recovery”

The report goes on to suggest an initial yearly payment for each type of environment, such as £512 per hectare per year for woodland, which would go towards “old-growth native forests in order to remove any perverse incentive to deforest”, allowing the management of said areas to be undertaken more successfully.

Unfortunately, Britain happens to be the ‘slowest and most reluctant of any European nation to begin rewilding the land and reintroducing its missing species’, writes George Monbiot.

Perhaps this is connected to the fact that we have one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in the world. Large landowners, who are often (though not universally) hostile towards any animals that might compete with or prey upon the animals they hunt, and often deeply suspicious of proposed changes to the way they manage their estates, are peculiarly powerful her. Though they and their views then dot belong to very small minority, they dominate rural policy, and little can be done without their agreement.

In a response to the petition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that “Our manifesto committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022, and in addition a further million trees in our towns and cities, and we also have a long-term aspiration to increase woodland cover from 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060,”. This is part of the government’s 25-year environment plan that was launched in January last year.

For further reading on rewilding, Deeply Good recommends investing in a copy of George Monbiot’s Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea, and Human Life, in which he puts forward the case for Rewilding in a very informative and emotive way.

We will be releasing an in-depth look into the Rewilding Britain report, so stay tuned.

Record numbers sign up for Veganuary 2019

Veganuary. The month that people dedicate to changing up their diet by consuming solely plant-based, vegan produce. With people entering 2019 with the phrase ‘new year, new me’ rooted deeply in their mindset, will we see them sticking to the change of diet?

This year, record numbers have signed up to the Veganuary pledge, with over 250,000 from 193 countries signing up. On Sunday 30th December 2018, 14,000 people signed up at a rate of one every six seconds.

2018 saw a real boom in the rise of veganism, with numbers of products available and adherents to the vegan lifestyle increasing exponentially.

“In 2018 there hasn’t been a week that has gone by without veganism hitting the headlines, whether it is a magazine editor being fired or Waitrose launching a new range of products,” said Rich Hardy, Head of Campaigns at Veganuary.

“Vegan products are getting a lot better and it is becoming a lot more convenient to have a tasty plant-based diet.”

One of the reasons for the surge in active members in the vegan community has been the warnings from scientists across the globe about the damage meat production and consumption has on the living planet, in terms of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the industry creates each year.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet. In May 2018, an incredibly comprehensive analysis of the impact of animal agriculture was published, which stated that avoiding animal products was the single most productive way to reduce an individual’s environmental footprint.

‘Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by 3.1 (2.8-3.3) billion hectares (a 76% reduction), including a 19% reduction in arable land; food’s GHG emissions by 6.6 (5.5-7.4) billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction); acidification by 50% (45-54%); eutrophication by 49% (37-56%); and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%.’

Recently, delegates who attended the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland were reprimanded for the menu served in the food court on site, a menu very high in meat-based products.

A third of UK consumers say they have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat, or excluded it from their diet entirely, according to the supermarket chain Waitrose. in 2018, one in eight Britons declared themselves as either vegetarian or vegan. 21% participate in a flexitarian diet, which is where a mostly plant-based diet is sometimes supplemented by meat, dairy, or fish.

Joseph Poore, of Oxford University, who led the research, said: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth – not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

Veganuary’s site states that the three main reasons to practice veganism are animal welfare, health, and environmental protection. It offers a practical explanation of all three reasons, including recommendations for videos, articles, discussions, and a list of vegan myths they take the time to dispel. There is also a ‘vegan starter kit’, advice on where to eat out, and a hundreds of recipes.

While Veganuary grows in numbers, environmentalists are worried that it will be hard to promote this lifestyle to the majority of people within the small time-frame that we have left to tackle climate breakdown.

‘Though dietary change is realistic for any individual, widespread behavioral change will be hard to achieve in the narrow timeframe remaining to limit global warming and prevent further, irreversible biodiversity loss.’

 

COP24’s meat-heavy menu could contribute 4,000 metric tons of emissions to atmosphere

Right at this moment delegates from all over the world are meeting in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, to discuss the implementation of plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that global heating is restricted to 1.5C.

Of course, this means that delegates need to be fed. You would think that the fare on offer would as eco-friendly as possible. Unfortunately this is not the case. A new study by the Center for Biological Diversity, Brighter Green, and Farm Forward, has discovered that the menu on offer could potentially be responsible for 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report opens ‘While world leaders gather in Katowice, Poland, for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference (UNFCCC), or COP24, the main food court serving the conference’s estimated 30,000 visitors is offering twice as many meat-based entrees as plant-based entrees. This means a menu with an unnecessarily high carbon foodprint. If international climate conferences hope to lead the way in addressing the climate crisis, organizers can’t afford to overlook the food offered at their events.’

The study stated that the meat-based options generated around 4.1kg CO2e per serving, while the plant-based options emitted around 4 times less than that, at 0.9kg CO2e per serving. If each of COP24’s 30,000 visitors chose a meat-based dish during the conference, this would contribute the equivalent of ‘burning more than 500,000 gallons of gasoline or the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to 3,000 people flying from New York to Katowice.’

To put the menu into specifics, the least carbon-intensive entrée is cabbage and mushroom dumplings, which in comparison to the most carbon-intensive entrée, beef with smoked bacon, produced 35 times less greenhouse gas emissions. Now it may seem of interest to offer a wide-range of foodstuffs to cater to everyone’s individual tastes and dietary requirements, but when a group of people gather to lead the charge against climate breakdown, shouldn’t their personal actions reflect their lofty ideals?

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‘If the food court replaced the beef patties with plant-based patties on its cheeseburgers with Louisiana sauce, it could cut each burger’s carbon footprint by 82 percent, or 6 kg of GHG emissions each.’

“The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference,” said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what’s on their own plates. That means transitioning the food served at international climate conferences to more plant-based options with smaller carbon footprints.”

30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are made up of emissions directly caused by the global food system, with a large amount of those emissions being caused by animal agriculture.

‘If current trends continue, food production will nearly exhaust the global carbon budget for all sectors by 2050.’

For us to effectively tackle climate breakdown, both the production and consumption of meat and dairy must be reduced significantly. If we want to keep global heating below 1.5C, a drastic shift in our diets needs to occur, especially with the high meat consumption in western countries, and the growing demand for meat in countries like China.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet.

‘In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions.’

Unfortunately, even though the science of agricultural emissions is sound, the issue is not one that has been covered in international climate negotiations and debates. This lack of attention is shown by the short-sighted menu offered at COP24.

“We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5C target, with business as usual,” said Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green, who will be in Katowice for COP24. “Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis. Demand-side policies and efforts, including food waste reductions and shifting diets—prioritizing populations with the highest consumption of animal-based foods—are critical in achieving a climate compatible food system and curtailing emissions.”