The UK Could Hit Zero Carbon with a ‘Nature Based’ Reduction Plan

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering have released a report in which they detail how the UK could effectively reduce its net carbon output to zero by 2050 — if, that is, they take massive action.

Commissioned by the UK government, the researchers looked at a wide range of CO2 removal strategies to see how the UK could hit its zero carbon goal. Of course, there are many technological advances in the pipeline, for example the latest development of carbon absorbing minerals. However, in this case the researchers decided to look at existing methods of carbon dioxide reduction that would not require the invention and development of new tech.

Professor Gideon Henderson FRS, Professor of Earth Science at the University of Oxford and chair of the report working group, is said in a press release: “If the UK acts now on greenhouse gas removal, we can reach national emissions targets and show how a major industrialised economy can play a leading role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

He adds, “In this report we’ve identified the available GGR technologies, how they might be used together for maximum effect, and how their phased development and deployment could enable the urgent action required to avoid the devastating impact of climate change.”

Nature Based CO2 Removal Strategies

The researchers offer a number of key actions they believe can be used to cut CO2 close to net zero.

1. Plant a Lot More Trees

Some of these make intuitive sense. We know that trees are great at carbon capture, so the researchers recommend adding to the UK’s forest cover to the tune of a 40 percent increase. That’s a lot, but it’s not entirely out of the question given how land use is changing and how cities in the UK are making a concerted push to restore tree cover where possible.

The type of trees will be important, and careful control of the biomass will have to be factored in. Candidates could be pines, though there would be room for other species, too, such as oaks.

2. Plant Energy Crops

Another step would be to plant around 2.5 million acres of so-called energy crops. These crops are grown as a low-cost and low-maintenance product for use in making biofuels.

As the BBC notes, the most likely candidates for that are probably willow or miscanthus grass. These crops could be turned into biofuel and generate electricity.

The CO2 made from this will be stored permanently underground — or at least until we have a means of releasing it in a way that will not harm the environment.

3. Restore Wetlands and Marshes

Peat wetlands are carbon abundant. As a result when those marshes, they release their gases, contributing heavily to global climate change by releasing carbon and methane.

Restoring these wetlands would serve to secure those carbon sinks and help keep them locked tight. It would also serve the secondary function of preserving habitats for threatened wetland species, some of whom are key species for preserving the wider rural food chain.

4. Build Timber Homes

Other steps include building more houses out of timber, because timber frame construction has the lowest CO2 emissions when compared to other traditional building methods.

5. Use Silicate Rocks

Lastly, the researchers posit that using crushed silicate rocks dispersed through the UK’s farmland can be a major component of this strategy. There’s solid science behind this, too. Researchers have found that using carbon silicate on farmland has a dual purpose of dissolving into soil to take up the carbon there while also feeding the crops with vital nutrients.

Using Nature and Tech to Reach Zero Carbon

Put together, this nature based program could yield significant reductions in carbon dioxide output in the UK that could get the nation closer to its zero carbon goal, though the researchers note that these steps will not be enough on their own.

Technological innovation in sectors like aviation and transport will also be key to securing that net zero future. This includes but isn’t limited to using carbon capture technologies to filter our air, as well as innovating existing electric and other low-carbon transport technologies to make them more efficient and cost effective.

Even though many of these proposed “natural” steps are readily available and are comparatively low cost, they will still be expensive and will need full backing from the government in terms of deployment and incentives for farmers, who will need to do much of the work.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit and not connected to the report, praised its findings, saying “It shows the UK can take its carbon emissions down to net zero by around mid-century and can do so affordably.”

He adds, “If anything, it has over-estimated the amount of negative emissions the UK will need, and yet still concludes that we can deliver.”

This report is certainly encouraging, and it shows how even relatively simple-sounding steps can lead to significant gains in the fight for our planet.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

70 comments

Mely Lu
Mely Lu4 days ago

Tyfs

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Anna R
Anna Rabout a month ago

Thank you

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Kitty Heardman
Vee Babout a month ago

wonderful news

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Henry M
Henry M2 months ago

If only the USA, the second biggest CO2 producer in the world, would follow their lead.

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Callie R
Callie R2 months ago

Thank you.

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Diane E
Diane E2 months ago

Sadly the UK has been slow to adopt green measures. So many opportunities are lost. New housing developments, shopping centres etc are being constructed with very little thought for a green future. Heat pump technology was known in the 1950s (The Royal Festival Hall used a water sourced heat pump). Solar panels are about to lose the government subsidy. Fracking could become easier. So sad. Southampton, however, uses geothermal power for some of the large buildings. Come on, wake up, Britain.

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Nicolas N
Nicolas Nasrallah2 months ago

First of all there might not be people around by 2050 at the rate things are going , hurricanes , droughts , melting ice etc... second reduce CO2 in UK to zeo and increase it in 3rd world countries where UK owned mining and oil companies prevail. It's bullshit to shut up the people who care about this planet. If any reduction is going to be done it has to be in the next couple of years not 25 to 30 years. We have to make it a better place for the new generations.

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Leo C
Leo C2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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S M
S M2 months ago

Obviously the people that did this report unaware that the U.K. Govt have just pushed to allow Cuadrilla fracking two drill sites in the north of England. How much did Cuadrilla put in the brown envelope one must wonder!
The way PM May always works is she has two issues facing each other and she enables, allows a see saw of money, support, .... duplicitous!

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Mark T
Mark T2 months ago

Ty.

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