County’s peatland to be counted in carbon emissions data

Cambridgeshire County Council is to explore ways of capturing carbon in peatland.

Cambridgeshire County Council is to explore ways of capturing carbon in peatland. - Credit: Archant

Reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 could soon become more challenging for Cambridgeshire.

Inherent in reaching net zero is quantifying emissions. What is and what is not calculated is set by the Government - and Cambridgeshire's carbon ledger is about to move considerably further into the red.

A report by the Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange, which uses researchers to offer insights for Cambridgeshire County Council, says all peatland emissions will be included in the Government calculations from next year.

The accounting effect on Cambridgeshire, the researchers say, could be an increase in recorded emissions of between 65 and 90 per cent.

But the researchers also have positive news - restored peatland can act as a carbon sink, and so contribute to a reduction in emissions.


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Cambridgeshire County Council declared a climate emergency in February this year.

At last week's county council meeting a motion was passed to appeal to the Government to run a pilot on council owned peatland farmland to address the issue.

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But speaking after the meeting (October 15) the chairman of the commercial and investment committee, Councillor Josh Schumann, played down the interpretation that it could mean flooding peatland, saying there are other ways to bring about the sink effect.

Cllr Schuman said: "[CUSPE] identified that peatland is a main contributor to giving off CO2 - as the peatland dries out it emits CO2 - and so with that information we then decided we couldn't ignore it and just say, well, that's just the lie of the land in this area… although the motion said to restore peatland, we are looking at a wider definition of restoration, so that doesn't mean flooding peatland again."

"It's been proven elsewhere that there are other options," he said, giving wetland farming as an example.

"Let's not pre-empt this," he added, saying the first step is to go to Government with the findings and present the opportunity to pilot new strategies.

CUSPE's findings will go to the county council's general purposes committee on October 22.

Its report - "what actions must Cambridgeshire County Council take to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050?" - contains a detailed breakdown of emissions sources and policy suggestions to achieve the required reduction.

The report identifies key sources of the county's carbon emissions:

- Domestic homes: 21 per cent

- Transport: 39 per cent

- Agriculture: 7 per cent

- Commercial services and industry: 27 per cent

- Waste management: 2 per cent

The report found a "business as usual approach" - a projection based on our current trajectory and without major policy change - will not even reach halfway to net zero by 2050. And a "significant proportion" of that forecasted drop does not come from Cambridgeshire-specific shifts, but from national grid decarbonisation.

In 2016, the researchers said, the county emitted 6.1 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year.

The "business as usual" scenario forecasts 2050 emissions of 3.5 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2e.

The researchers have laid out an "ambitious" strategy the county can use "as a guide" to reach 0.6 Mt CO2e in 2050.

Carbon capture could then help the county get over the line.

The report identifies a number of possible policies which demonstrate the extent of the challenge. Included are large-scale changes such as making all road vehicles and 91 per cent of HGVs electric, reducing demand for red meat and dairy by 20 per cent, and introducing district heating, which would see some heating provided from centralised stations.

Peatland is not included in the report's forecasts or policy suggestions, but the researchers note it "has the potential to change from a net emissions source to a net sink.

"Cambridgeshire has the opportunity to be a leader in the effective restoration of peatland, an activity which will be important for climate change mitigation efforts all over the world, and thus the county could potentially have an impact on climate change mitigation at an international level."

The council's champion for evidence informed policy, Councillor Ian Manning, said the report demonstrates the value of the policy exchange programme between the county council and university researchers in Cambridge.

Cllr Manning said: "The importance of the work here can't be understated. From this collaboration our council has locally specific models to aid in the fight against climate change.

"This has opened up interesting questions that are specific to Cambridgeshire, such as the amount of peat in the County.

"We're leading the UK here, and the team and residents should be proud of our achievements. Anyone interested in finding out more can come to our festival of ideas event on October 23."

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