Achieving net zero in Wales by 2050 is going to be “very challenging”, according to a senior adviser on the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), with some “tricky decisions” to be made on future emissions and carbon storage.
Addressing the NFU Cymru conference in Llandrindod Wells on Thursday (2 November). Niki Rust, head of land, agriculture and nature at the CCC, explained that soil carbon concentrations have remained relatively stable in Wales over several decades.
But in terms of carbon storage, it is thought that more carbon was lost during Storm Arwen in November 2021 than gains made from trees planted that year.
Meanwhile, emissions from the Welsh agricultural sector have been “creeping up” since 2010, and that will make achieving net zero by 2050 “very challenging”, Dr Rust warned.
“We are going to have some very tricky decisions here because we are really quite far behind,” she said.
“It may well be that we will need deeper and quicker cuts from other sectors, because the agricultural sector, especially when it comes to tree planting, is quite far behind.”
Despite the need for more action, Dr Rust said it was important farmers were not “thrown under the bus”.
“I do not want to see a repeat of what happened in the 1980s. I live in the North East and know the effects of what happened to the mining industry there and the political decisions.
“I don’t want to see a repeat of that in the agricultural sector as we get in this race to net zero.”
The trend for investment and pension funds to buy up land and become “green lairds” was also concerning.
“It is affecting the social fabric of rural societies so I think, yes we need to get to net zero, yes we need to solve the joint nature and climate crises, but it cannot be at the expense of rural communities,” said Dr Rust.
She was also critical of the Welsh government’s efforts to help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change.
“If I was marking this homework for the government I would probably give them maybe a D, so not very good,” Dr Rust said.