The burden of decarbonisation should not fall unequally on Wales’s rural and farming communities. That was the message from the NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board, who met earlier today (Tuesday, 4th December).
This comes as the National Assembly are expected to vote on Welsh Government Climate Change (Wales) Regulations which will make targets to reduce emissions by 27% by 2020; 45% by 2030 and 67% by 2040 legally binding.
Welsh Government is expected to publish its first Low Carbon Delivery Plan next March, following consultation over the summer setting out its proposals for each sector on the low carbon pathway.
The consultation contained proposals for power, transport, buildings, agriculture, land use and forestry industries, as well as the public sector and waste. For land use and forestry, the proposals include 66,000 hectares of additional tree planting at a rate of 2-4,000 hectares per year on Welsh land – 90% of which is suggested to come from afforestation with 10% taking the form of agro-forestry.
Commenting after the meeting, NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board Chair, Hedd Pugh said: “To put Welsh Government’s current proposals into context, the average farm size in Wales is 48 hectares. To achieve afforestation on the scale proposed would require the complete afforestation of some 1,400 farms in Wales. That is the removal of 1,400 farming families from the land, all of whom make a valuable contribution to their local economy, rural communities and the Welsh language.
“It is vital before moving forward, that Welsh Government undertakes a full assessment of the impact on the farming families affected, our rural communities and language, the economy and the environment. In the absence of a full regulatory impact assessment, we remain wholly unconvinced that Welsh Government is seeking to strike an appropriate balance between decarbonisation and meeting wider economic, environmental, social and cultural objectives.
“As farmers we recognise the very important role that we have to play in contributing to the decarbonisation agenda in Wales. Farmers are already making a significant contribution through achieving efficiencies in production; through investment in renewable energy technologies, as well as other practical measures, such as tree and hedgerow establishment and management on their farms. It is disheartening that this work is not recognised in the inventory for agriculture, and a more balanced net carbon position should be established for Welsh farms, recognising the positive contribution of these activities.”
Mr Pugh added: “It is important that Welsh Government does not seek to reach targets in Wales by ‘off-shoring’ food production to other parts of the world. This would be a wholly unsustainable position for Welsh Government to adopt and would not align with the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which recognises the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security.
“Our Board today was clear, that whilst farmers are very keen to continue to contribute to the decarbonisation agenda for Wales, indeed, we are one of the few sectors who can actually sequester carbon through our activities. Targets must not be achieved through the displacement of people and communities.”