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Land use decisions and climate change

Concerns over climate change are affecting land-use decisions and the trend looks set to accelerate. Gareth Taylor reports.

How we use land is under increased scrutiny from a leading panel of scientists due to its contributing role in climate change. 

A report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that 28% of global climate change emissions are from agriculture, forestry and other land uses. 

We might imagine that the majority of emissions are caused by deforestation or cattle ranching, but the report on Climate Change and Land makes clear that western farming techniques are not without blame, with agriculture accountable for 82% of nitrous oxide being produced by the agricultural industry (generally associated with fertilisers). 

However, the report also acknowledges the part that land plays in feeding populations. 

It also highlights the role that land can play in mitigating and slowing down the effects of global warming and the UK is lucky to have peat bogs and afforestation opportunities, both of which are carbon sinks. 

At Galbraith we have recently seen a rise in clients making land-use decisions based on, or giving consideration to, their carbon emissions impacts; one individual chose to sacrifice an income stream by not renewing a lease for peat extraction (for garden compost) to reduce their carbon footprint. 

We have also seen a slow rise in enquiries for carbon offsetting opportunities via afforestation. Interestingly, native birch forestry locks up more CO2 than commercial woodland and can be planted in areas where commercial forestry would not be viable. 

Government incentives are likely to continue to evolve away from food production towards payment for environmental services, which will also present opportunities to those who are prepared to adopt change. 

As the effects of climate change are felt more acutely, the role of land managers will change, but weight should already be given to both the emissions of land use and the economic opportunities of mitigation when making policy decisions over future uses.