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NEECCo launches counting carbon project

On a mission to help the North East become England’s Greenest Region, the North East England Climate Coalition (NEECCo) has today launched a pilot project to count the carbon stocks and flows across the region in a bid to better understand and tackle climate change.

NEECCo’s Land Use and Agriculture Planning Group has been working with stakeholders across the region to understand the role land use has in both contributing to climate change by releasing carbon in to the atmosphere (carbon flow) and offering a solution to climate change by locking carbon in (carbon stock).

To start a conversation on how land use can best mitigate climate change, NEECCo, Groundwork NE & Cumbria and Northumbria University developed a new pilot project to derive ballpark estimates of the amount of carbon locked up in the habitats and land cover types of the North East.

The project began by generating estimates of the coverage of each land use type across North East England (per square kilometre), and then used these coverages to estimate the carbon stock and flux associated with each cover type across the region.

The project determined that over half (51%) of the North East is covered by agricultural land- particularly improved grassland, arable and horticulture. This land could be locking up over 50 Megatonnes of Carbon, although uncertainty ranges are very wide. NEECCo therefore argue that there is substantial potential for the region’s farming sector to contribute to climate change mitigation, but we need better data to identify where and how it can best do so.

The land cover types associated with the highest carbon stocks were bog, coniferous woodland, broadleaf woodland, improved grassland, and arable, yet again there were wide uncertainty ranges associated with all estimates. The overall estimate suggests that North East England contains 143 Megatonnes of Carbon (MtC, range 110 to 177).

On carbon flux, the project determined that broadleaf and coniferous woodlands both contribute substantially to carbon sequestration (capture) in the North East, being responsible for the removal of 0.44 and 0.35 Mt CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere each year. Overall, data on carbon flux tended to be less complete and more uncertain than data on carbon stock.

The large uncertainty ranges around all our estimates highlight an urgent need for better data on both carbon stock and carbon flux of key cover types, alongside more localised information on management history and environmental conditions, if we are to base land management decisions on sound environmental evidence.

Dr Andrew Suggitt, Assistant Professor at Northumbria University, said: “As the biodiversity and climate crises worsen, we are increasingly looking to incentivise land management that meets environmental criteria, and the carbon stock of each land use type is probably one of the most important things to take into account. But as our pilot project shows, we need a much better idea of where carbon is locked up in our landscapes in order to make better decisions, and quickly- because we are running out of time to get this right”.

Gaby McKay-Jones, RoE Research and Monitoring Project Assistant at Groundwork North East and Cumbria, said: “Understanding the gaps in our knowledge is essential when considering how as region we will undertake initiatives to tackle the climate and environmental emergency we are facing. This pilot project gives an insight into the carbon stock and flux of the North East’s habitat types and is an interesting step towards how land use can be managed to keep carbon stored.”

The Carbon Counting project supports NEECCo’s promise to respond to the climate emergency by empowering the region with knowledge and resources to deliver change. Improving our understanding of carbon sequestration and storage is imperative if we are to tailor our decision-making to meet the goals in the Paris climate agreement.