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Devon Carbon Plan

This is the full length Devon Carbon Plan all the background information, research and detail regarding how Devon can become net-zero across five intersecting themes. This version is best suited to anyone looking to learn about the full scope of the climate emergency in Devon, and how Devon will tackle this. 


Food, Land and Sea

  • Developing demand for nutritious and sustainably-produced food. 
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving carbon storage from farming.
  • Maximising carbon storage in the environment. 

11.1  Introduction

Devon is mostly rural with two coastlines and up to 92% of land used for farming in some local authority areas.1 So how Devon balances concerns for food production, and security, and the need for its land and seas to store more carbon and do more for wildlife, is a crucial element of our response to the climate and ecological emergency. 

The Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) category of Devon’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is different from others because methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the main emissions rather than carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrous oxide emissions largely come from the application of manure and other organic fertilisers as well as chemical fertiliser to land, whilst methane is mainly produced by the digestion of food by cattle and sheep. 

Emissions from AFOLU accounted for 17% of Devon’s GHG emissions in 2019.2 This category is both a source of emissions and provides opportunities for their removal by increasing the amount of carbon stored in the environment3 and by reducing methane emissions (see Box 1). For example, Dartmoor’s peat soils store an estimated 10 million tonnes of carbon – equivalent to an entire year of CO2 emissions from UK industry.4

The AFOLU emissions for Devon do account for the contribution made by land habitats in removing CO2 from the atmosphere (-347,422 tCO2 in 2019) but do not account fully for emissions from peatland. Improvements to estimates of peatland emissions will be included in the 2020 data release. The role of marine habitats is not included as data are not yet available.

In addition to AFOLU emissions, the fossil fuels used in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors for machinery and processes contribute 4% of Devon’s total emissions, bringing the total for the sector to 21%. Solutions to reducing these emissions are described in the Energy Supply and Transport sections of this Plan.    

This section describes what needs to happen to reduce net AFOLU emissions from food, land and sea based on the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC’s) Further Ambition Scenario27 (which does account for the additional emissions from peatlands not currently included in Devon’s emissions inventory). It introduces goals which will overcome the barriers to achieving net-zero in Devon identified during the Thematic Hearings and the Public Call for Evidence, followed by the actions proposed to achieve the goals. 

Box 1 – Short-Lived Greenhouse Gases

The amount of energy each greenhouse gas (GHG) traps in the atmosphere varies. The effect of a GHG on global warming is known as its global warming potential relative to 1 unit of carbon dioxide over 100 years (known as GWP100). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change uses GWP100 to analyse the warming effect of different GHGs on a comparable basis – referred to as ‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ (abbreviated as CO2e). The GWP100 of methane and nitrous oxide are 27 and 273 respectively. It is on this basis that Devon’s GHG emissions have been compiled and this Plan prepared. 

However, each GHG stays in the atmosphere for different lengths of time, which is not accounted for by the GWP100. Carbon dioxide lasts thousands of years, methane persists for a decade and nitrous oxide is around for about 100 years.6 This means that GWP100 exaggerates the effect of short-lived GHGs on Earth’s temperature because they do not accumulate in the atmosphere over this time scale like longer-lived GHGs.5  

A recently-proposed alternative is termed GWP*. This still uses a 100-year timescale but it effectively spreads the emissions of short-lived GHGs evenly over the 100-years. Yet this method receives criticism for understating the warming effect of short-lived GHGs. This is the subject of ongoing research.  

This uncertainty is not a reason to ignore methane emissions. Reducing methane emissions now will be effective in reducing peak temperatures and delaying the time at which warming thresholds are crossed.8 To achieve temperature targets and for temperatures to subsequently decline it is important that shorter-lived GHGs and carbon dioxide are addressed together.9

11.2 The Change Needed

11.2.1 Develop Demand for Nutritious and Sustainably-Produced Food

11.2.2 Reduce GHG Emissions and Improve Carbon Storage from Farming

11.2.3 Maximise Carbon Storage in the Environment

11.3 Greenhouse Gas Outcomes

11.4 Other Opportunities and Benefits

11.5 Devon’s Goals to Meet Net-Zero

11.5.1 Goal FA – Everyone Can Choose a Healthy and Sustainable Diet

11.5.2 Goal FB – Organisations are Serving Local, Sustainable and Healthy Food

11.5.3 Goal FC – Farmers and Land Managers Have Access to Impartial Advice, Demonstrator Projects and Resources for Low-Carbon Agriculture

11.5.4 Goal FD – The Potential for Land to Address the Climate and Ecological Emergencies is Being Used to Maximum Effect

11.5.5 Goal FE – Mechanisms and Funding are in Place to Protect, Restore and Enhance Nature-Based Carbon Storage

11.5.6 Goal FF – Devon’s Coastal and Marine Habitats Have Been Protected, Restored and Enhanced  

11.5.7 Goal FG – Environmental Law is Effectively Enforced

11.6 Summary of the Actions

11.7 Milestones

11.8 References

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