Knowledge for better food systems

Repurposing UK agricultural land to meet climate goals

This report from the Animal Law and Policy Programme at Harvard Law School estimates the carbon sequestration potential of converting UK land currently used for animal agriculture into native forest. The remaining cropland is enough to provide more than the recommended calories and protein for all UK residents, according to the authors.

The report looks at two scenarios:

  1. Both pasture land and cropland that is currently used to produce animal feed are converted to forest. This removes as much carbon from the atmosphere as is equivalent to 12 years of current UK emissions.
  2. Only pasture land is converted to forest, with all current cropland used to produce food for direct human consumption. This removes carbon from the atmosphere that is equivalent to 9 years of current UK emissions.

The report argues that reforesting these areas of farmland would also produce benefits for wildlife. Carbon removal potential was based on the average of six maps of potential vegetation rates for temperate climates. In both scenarios, it was assumed that carbon uptake becomes saturated after 30 years, and that the forest that regrows is mostly oak, sycamore, ash, beech and birch in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scots pine in Scotland.

See media coverage of the report here:

Read the full report, Eating away at climate change with negative emissions: Repurposing UK agricultural land to meet climate goals, here (PDF link) and read the press release here. See also the Foodsource building block What is land use and land use change?

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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