People should cut their consumption of red meat and dairy by a fifth as part of measures to combat climate change, a report for the UK Government has suggested.
The report from the UK Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) also calls for a fifth of Scotland to be reforested as part of major changes to how land is managed to help the UK reach its net-zero emissions target of 2050.
Scottish ministers have set an even more ambitious target of 2045, with interim plans to cut emissions in half by 2030.
A fifth of agricultural land across the UK needs to be taken out of production and freed up for natural methods of storing carbon such as more woodlands and trees, the first in-depth report on land use from the UKCCC urges.
Encouraging people to cut the beef, lamb and dairy they eat by 20% – which the committee said was a “modest” reductions – will help cut greenhouse gases and free up land for storing carbon.
Around 30,000 hectares or 100 million trees a year need to be planted from 2023 up to mid-century, a significant increase on today’s levels of planting, which were around 13,000 hectares last year, according to the report.
The study also said half the country’s upland peat areas must be restored, alongside a quarter of lowland peat areas – and calls for a ban on practices like rotational burning on peatland, used by grouse moor managers.
The committee further suggested a levy on airlines or fossil fuel companies could be used to fund reforestation.
UKCCC chairman Lord Deben said: “Changing the way we use our land is critical to delivering the UK’s net zero target.
“The options we are proposing would see farmers and land managers – the stewards of the land – delivering actions to reduce emissions.
“Doing so can provide new revenue opportunities for farmers, better air quality and improved biodiversity, and more green spaces for us all to enjoy.”
But he warned: “We are in a race against time, there’s no doubt urgency must be the hallmark of what we are doing here.”
Land use along with much of environmental policy is devolved to Holyrood and the Scottish Government is planning a new Agriculture Bill separate to UK legislation as Britain leaves the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy.
A spokeswoman for WWF Scotland said: “This latest report from the UKCCC once again emphasises what a critical role our natural environment can play in capturing and storing carbon.
“It also highlights the land use interventions that will be required to reduce emissions. Delivery will bring challenges and changes, but also considerable benefits for society.
“However, as the UKCCC has previously pointed out, current government land-use policy in Scotland is not sufficient to put us on the path to ending our contribution to climate change, and Scottish ministers have yet to set out long term plans for funding to support delivery of mitigation measures.
“We need to see new financial commitments in the upcoming Budget that help farmers accelerate action to reduce their emissions, we need land use decisions to be guided in an evidence-based and strategic way through national and regional land use plans and we need a Scottish Agriculture Bill that puts the role of land in tackling the climate and nature emergencies at the heart of how we support land use.”
The Scottish Greens said the call to reforest Scotland by a fifth does not go far enough – and could hand money to wealthy landowners.
Environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “Reforesting a fifth of Scotland would only be the start of what is needed if we are to tackle the climate emergency.
“The Scottish Greens would reforest Scotland to the European average of 40%.
“The Scottish Government is failing to meet its own targets and relying on oil giant Shell to fund part of its reforestation programme.
“At the current rate, it will take the Scottish Government 150 years to reach the EU average.”
He added: “Historically, rapid reforestation has only happened through an empowered and strengthened public sector, and that is what is needed now.
“Instead, up to a fifth of our landmass is kept barren so people can shoot grouse.
“Let’s not put our future in their hands, and instead transform rural Scotland with a Scottish Green New Deal, creating thousands of jobs.”
Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The Scottish Government welcomes the breadth and depth of the CCC’s report, confirming, as it does, that we were right to declare a global climate emergency last year.
“We strongly agree that Scotland’s land and the manner in which we use and manage it will be key in meeting Scotland’s and the UK’s net-zero targets.
“Our Programme for Government has already set out steps we are taking to respond to the climate emergency head on, including significantly increasing tree planting levels, restoring peatland, promoting low carbon agricultural practices, developing guidance to encourage more people to consume more sustainable healthy locally-produced food and establishing a New Green Deal for Scotland.”
The UK Government said it would consider the recommendations in the committee’s report closely and said tackling climate change is a “national and international priority”.
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