Campaign for National Parks responds to Government's Net Zero Strategy

28 October 2021

The release of the Westminster Government's Net Zero strategy this month coincided with a commitment from the UK's National Park Authorities to ensure net zero National Parks by 2045 (with net zero National Park Authorities by 2030).

The strategy sets out proposals for eliminating UK emissions in England by 2050, decarbonising across all sectors of the UK economy. There remains uncertainty about the how ambitions will be delivered through the agricultural and land management sectors and the role of nature-based solutions.

Responding to the strategy, the Climate Change Committee said “a credible strategy, led by Defra, and integrated with the challenges for how we use our land and our soil”.

This must include National Parks.

"The Government must provide the right supporting framework to allow National Park Authorities to take effective climate action," said our Policy and Research Manager Ruth Bradshaw, "Including ensuring that policy decisions in relevant areas such as transport and planning are consistent with a move towards net zero."

Nature-based solutions

“We will boost the existing £640 million Nature for Climate Fund with a further £124 million of new money, ensuring total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 on peat restoration, woodland creation and management.”

We welcome this, but it is only a fraction of what’s needed (the Office for National Statistics estimates that fully restoring the UK’s degraded peatlands could cost between £8 billion and £22 billion over the next 100 years but would save £109 billion in terms of reduced carbon emissions).

Ruth said: "The coverage of nature-based solutions is very focused on trees and peat and there is almost no reference to the role of other types of habitats e.g. grasslands but it is good to see a recognition of the need to tackle the nature and climate crises together."

Housing and buildings

The plan does not include enough support for the retrofitting of existing buildings - a particular issue for National Parks given the age of much of the housing. Neither does it ensure strong energy efficiency requirements for new buildings through the planning system.

Ruth said: "They commit to “consulting on phasing in higher minimum performance standards to ensure all homes meet EPC Band C by 2035, where cost-effective, practical and affordable”, but we already know that we need higher energy efficiency standards for new homes now."

Planning

We recently co-signed a joint letter from Town and Country Planning Association demanding greater action for climate change in planning, and the net zero strategy appears to have regocnised that.

The Government says it wants to ensure “that the reformed planning system supports our efforts to combat climate change and help bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. For example, as part of our programme of planning reform we intend to review the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to make sure it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.”

However, it's lacking in detail on what that means in practice so we're yet to see what this will mean and how effective it will be.

Transport

"We welcome commitment to investing in walking and cycling (£2 billion) and the National Bus Strategy (£3 billion)," said Ruth, "but these sums are a fraction of the £27 billion road-building programme.

"It’s not clear that National Parks and other rural areas will benefit much from the support for sustainable transport as the priority for it seems to be urban areas. There is reference to an aim that half of all journeys in towns and cities will be cycled or walked by 2030, but no reference to trying to encourage reduced car use for visits to the countryside.

"The transport section is very focused on support for low emission vehicles and too little focused on encouraging behaviour change."

Our National Parks and the Climate Emergency report released earlier this year has recommendation for the Westminster and Welsh Governments and National Park Authorities on how to better tackle climate change. You can read the full report here.

N.B. The Welsh Government released its Net Zero Wales strategy after we published this article - our response to follow.