Last week in Strasbourg, Jude Kirton-Darling and I, your Labour Members of the European Parliament for the North East, were proud to join with the vast majority of our fellow MEPs from across all the 28 member states to vote in favour of the United Nations’ climate change deal that was struck in Paris in December of last year.
International action on climate change has evolved incrementally and has often been a case of two steps forward, one step back. Margaret Thatcher and her government took some of the early steps and John Prescott went out to Japan and took part in the conference that led to the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which set binding emission reduction targets.
We now have a situation where the international architecture on how the world is going to reduce its climate change emissions is too complicated for mere mortals to understand, myself included. Clearly, if we were to start again it would hopefully be a lot simpler, but we must plough on with what we’ve got.
To date there has been a big focus on reducing emissions from the power generation sector, transport (with the exception of air travel) and the energy intensive industries; steel, concrete (8% of global emissions), brick makers etc.
Somehow, rather naughtily, the farming sector has kept a low profile, yet globally farming is responsible for 15% of emissions.
Farming was included in the Kyoto agreement but that is due to end in 2020, so work is now underway at an EU level to incorporate agriculture and wider land use into the existing climate change plans.
To this end the European Commission brought forward a proposal over the summer, which we, the MEPs, can now amend. As is often the case with legislative proposals it has a rather complicated title: Regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from land use, land use change and forestry. Everyone is now calling it LU-LU-CF, for short.
Despite the UK’s decision to leave the EU we will still be a member for at least two more years, and we will still be paying into the budget, hence its entirely appropriate that UK MEPs still get to lead on major pieces of EU Parliament work. To this end I am pleased to report that the Socialist and Democrats (S&D), the second largest political grouping in the Parliament to which we the Labour MEPs are affiliated, have appointed me to be their lead on LULUCF, or as its technically termed, their Shadow Rapporteur.
So what is the Commission proposing? For the first time ever, EU Member States will be required to balance their carbon emissions and removals from the land use sector. This means that they will be required to ensure their farmlands, forests, grasslands, wetlands, peat bogs etc. capture and store more carbon than they emit. The regulation will allow for certain flexibilities in order to incentivise climate-friendly approaches, and so Members States will be able to count some of the carbon credits generated in their LULUCF sector towards their emission reduction commitments elsewhere.
Importantly, harvested wood products, including paper, wood panels (think Egger) and sawn wood will be counted separately, thus incentivising the use of wood as a carbon sink across the wider economy. Apart from simplifying CO2 emissions accounting across different sectors, the regulation will set the direction for climate action, particularly in agriculture and forestry.
And what are our initial thoughts as S&D on how we need to amend? Top priority is ensuring we don’t end up reducing the overall ambition of the EU to drive down carbon emissions. The Commission’s proposal is very lenient on agriculture, including allowing for additional emission offsets with credits generated, for example, by new forests or grasslands.
Secondly, we will try to find ways to increase the incentives for farmers, foresters and other landowners, to make sure that farm or forest production does not deliver adverse climate impacts.
It will be a cross party approach, and we will work hard to find as much consensus as possible. If we get it right our children will thank us, if we get it wrong a pair of wellies won’t save us.