UK can reduce 37% of its CO2 emissions by restoring ecosystems: Report

The country’s landscapes can store carbon and absorb a third of the emissions, the report says

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 25 June 2020

The United Kingdom can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 134.7 million tonnes — 37 per cent of its mitigation targets — if it restores its degraded ecosystems, according to a report published on June 24, 2020 by non-profit Wildlife Trusts.

Landscapes in the UK can store carbon and absorb a third of the island nation’s emissions, according to the report, titled Let nature help: How nature’s recovery is essential for tackling the climate crisis.

The UK government will then be able to meet its emission mitigation targets set by the Paris Agreement and achieve its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2050, if it restores its degraded ecosystems.

The UK’s total CO2 emissions in 2018 were 364.1 million tonnes.

Restoring a wide range of land habitats

The UK’s peatland soils store around 3.2 billion tonnes of CO2, but release 23 million tonnes every year, according to the report. The country’s grasslands and woodlands store two billion tonnes and one billion tonnes of carbon respectively, the report said.

A hectare of seagrass stores two tonnes of CO2 a year, said the report. The UK, however, lost half of its seagrass meadows since 1985.

Similarly, one hectare of saltmarsh captures two tonnes of carbon a year and locks it into sediments for centuries. The country, however, loses nearly 100 hectares of saltmarsh a year. Coastal realignment could restore much of it.

The wetlands can accumulate carbon for centuries. Restored wetlands provide rich habitats, clean water naturally and reduce flood risks downstream.

Oceans absorb 20-35 per cent of man-made CO2 emissions every year. Introducing marine spatial planning would integrate all activities to avoid unintentional harms and maximise benefits.

Restoring grasslands, planting more woods and allowing natural regeneration could lock up more carbon and would be one of the most cost-effective, nature-based solutions, the report added.

Restoration projects

Wildlife Trusts point to nature restoration projects such as the re-wetting of 3,700 hectares of fenland in Cambridgeshire that will lock an estimated 325,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. In Essex, up to 60 per cent of coastal marshes were eroded in the last 20 years.

The report called on the government, industry and local authorities to increase investment in nature’s recovery and climate change mitigation.

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