Challenges in delivering climate change policy through land use targets for afforestation and peatland restoration

Iain Brown (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)
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    Climate change policy for the land sector is challenged by complex biophysical and socioeconomic contexts. A target approach utilising land-use change indicators is often used to quantify and communicate progress, based upon assumed greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions. This paper investigated areal targets for woodland expansion and peatland restoration, both of which can deliver substantial carbon sequestration benefits, with uptake typically supported by grant incentives. A case study used empirical data to investigate realisation of such targets in Scotland referenced against ambitious policy commitments (net-zero emissions by 2045). Analysis of actual locations for recent afforestation and peatland restoration, referenced against biophysical data, showed that new woodland primarily occurred on land that was marginal for agriculture, usually on wetter uncultivated semi-natural land, often on organic soils. This acts to constrain net carbon gains. Both peatland restoration and new woodland show tendency to aggregate in specific zones or locations, regardless of biophysical opportunities, highlighting underlying socioeconomic factors. Differential patterns of uptake are also shown by grant applications across different land use groups. Socioeconomic factors act against more ubiquitous uptake of incentive schemes, especially for new woodland on improved agricultural land, which will constrain long-term decarbonisation objectives unless tackled directly. Investigation therefore shows that use of simple targets (e.g. trees planted) as headline progress indicators can be misleading, potentially contributing to policy failure and misuse of carbon offsets. A more spatially targeted approach is required to maximise GHG reductions relative to local contexts. Recommendations are made for improved measures that recognise spatial and temporal variability, as exemplified by certification schemes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)36-45
    Number of pages10
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
    Early online date25 Feb 2020
    Publication statusPublished - May 2020


    • Afforestation
    • Carbon sequestration
    • Climate change
    • Indicators
    • Peatland restoration
    • Scotland

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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