In a new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), it has been recommended that tree planting should double by 2020, with land currently used for meat and diary production being converted into woodland. The report states that beef and lamb production in the UK should be reduced by 20-50%. This would free up between 3 and 7 million hectares of grassland, which could then be planted with trees. These newly-created forests could help to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere, reduce the impacts of flooding and provide a new source of biofuel.
Other recommendations include protection for peatland and measures to ensure that no food waste goes to landfill by 2025.
From a climate change perspective, it's easy to see why it has been suggested that less land is used for dairy and beef cattle. Each cow produces between 70 and 120kg of methane a year. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, up to 28 times more powerful than CO2. That makes each cow's methane emissions equivalent to 1,750kg to 3,000kg of CO2 a year. At the top end, that's greater than the emissions of a Land Rover Defender driven 11,000 miles in a year. There are currently about 1.5 billion cows on our planet, of which about 9.8 million live in the UK.
The report has been criticised, both by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and by environmentalists. Whilst the NFU welcomed the idea of diversification of land use, it expressed disappointment at the move to cut livestock numbers in the UK. Meanwhile, environmental groups felt that even greater reforestation targets and higher cuts to livestock numbers should have been proposed in the report.