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One of the world's most distinguished experts on climate change entered the Senedd in Cardiff to deliver his wide-ranging report, Combating Climate Change - A Role for UK Forests, to Assembly members.
Professor Sir David Read, a renowned authority on what has been called the greatest challenge to the planet, chaired the group that produced the report which investigated how UK forests and trees can play a role in the nation's response to global warming.
Professor Read's report provides a detailed, scientifically-based analysis of how trees can help to combat climate change and calls for a number of actions which, if accepted by the Assembly Government, could transform the Welsh countryside as well as the appearance of our towns and cities.
Today's presentation in Wales of the influential "Read report" - it has already been welcomed by the UK government in Westminster - follows the recent publication of a report by the Assembly's Land Use Climate Change Group which recommended that an additional 100,000 hectares of new woodland is created in Wales over the next 20 years.
Such a dramatic programme of woodland creation would increase tree cover in Wales by a third from its current 285,000 hectares - and Professor Read, a Fellow of the Royal Society and formerly its Vice President and Biological Secretary, believes our towns and cities should be targeted as well.
Professor Read - who is Emeritus Professor of Plant Science in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield - says that, confronted by climate change, "substantial responses are required of the forestry sector".
He told the invited guests, "All our research points to the fact that forestry can make a significant and cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets.
"While so many emissions reduction measures have negative connotations, tree planting can be a win, win, win solution: people love trees, we benefit from them in so many different ways, and now we know they could play a significant part in reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions."
Addressing climate change is one of the key priorities for the Assembly Government, which is committed to achieving an annual 3% reduction in carbon-equivalent emissions by 2011.
Joining Assembly Members and Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones for the professor's presentation of the report's highlights was Tim Rollinson, Director General of the Forestry Commission, who commissioned the independent assessment of UK forestry and climate change.
The study is considered to be the first national assessment of its kind in the world and is already attracting interest from other countries keen to form their own climate change plans and policies.
The revised Woodlands for Wales strategy acknowledges the role woodlands and their products can play in addressing climate change and also the importance of the need for them to adapt to future changes.
Elin Jones said, "I welcome this report as a significant contribution to the science on the subject of the role of trees and woodlands in mitigating climate change.
"The findings of this report bear out what we in Wales recognise as the valuable contribution woodlands and trees can make to addressing climate change."
The report says climate change is already impacting on UK forestry and model simulations of future climate indicate that the UK will continue to warm substantially through this century, with increased frequency and severity of summer drought and changes in rainfall patterns.
It adds, "Trees have an important role in helping society to adapt to climate change, particularly in the urban environment, through providing shelter, cooling, shade and run-off control. Tree and woodland cover in and around urban areas will be increasingly important for managing local temperatures and surface water."
The report acknowledges that the demands on land for other purposes - notably food production and urban development - affect the economic potential for land to be allocated to forestry and says more innovative funding opportunities for woodland creation should be explored, such as leveraging private funding from either the Corporate Social Responsibility or emission reduction budgets of companies.
Other findings include:
- the strength of the carbon sink provided by UK forests is weakening rapidly and stepping up the new woodland planting rate would help to reverse this decline;
- if an extra four per cent of the UK’s land were planted with new woodland over the next 40 years, it could be locking up 10% of predicted greenhouse gas emissions by the 2050s;
- there is a very high likelihood that climate change will have serious impacts on some tree species and foresters will need to consider introducing new species, including those from continental Europe, to ensure that forests are resilient to changes in the climate;
- planting woodland along urban river corridors can play an important role to reduce thermal stress to fish and freshwater life;
- if the market for wood construction products continues to grow at its current rate over the next 10 years, there is the potential to store an estimated additional 10 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon (equivalent to 36.7 Mt CO2) in new and refurbished homes by 2019; and
- within the next five years, sustainably produced woodfuel has the potential to save the equivalent of approximately seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by replacing fossil fuels. The report says the use of biomass for heating provides one of the most cost-effective and environmentally acceptable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The report will be launched in Wales at 5pm on Tuesday, 16 March in Conference Room 24, Ty Hywel House, Cardiff Bay, when Prof Read will make a presentation highlighting its findings.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. Professor Sir David Read was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1990 and was formerly its Vice President and Biological Secretary until 2008. He is Emeritus Professor of Plant Science in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield.
2. Professor Read chaired an independent steering group of forestry and climate change experts from the UK and overseas who co-ordinated the production of the report, Combating Climate Change - A Role for UK Forests, which was commissioned by the Forestry Commission to examine the potential of the UK’s trees and woodlands to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate.
3. The report forms part of the UK response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth Assessment report. The IPCC report provided authoritative evidence of how planting and managing woodland, avoiding deforestation, and replacing fossil fuels and carbon-intensive products with wood can make a major contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change. It also examined the impacts of climate change on forests, and the importance of adaptation to make forest ecosystems more resilient.
4. If the target recommended by the Land Use Climate Change Group of an additional 100,000 hectares of new woodland in Wales over the next 20 years is achieved, then by 2050 this woodland will be mitigating almost one-third of current agricultural emissions.
5. Although the UK's existing forest area has more than doubled over the past 80 years, at around 12% it is among the lowest of any country in Europe. Tree cover in Wales, at 14%, is higher than the UK average but more new woodlands need to be created here to make a significant contribution to both the UK and Wales's own targets.
7. The report suggests that appropriate planting of 23,000 hectares a year – equivalent to about 30,000 football pitches – over 40 years would involve changing the use of only four per cent of the UK’s land. This would mean increasing tree planting by 200 per cent on current levels. It would bring woodland cover in the UK to 16% of the land area, still well below the European average of 37%.