Green Recovery Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th February 2021.

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Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

As the deputy convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I am pleased to close the debate. As Gillian Martin stated, it is about an ECCLR Committee report, but many contributors to that report identified actions that are required across most of the Parliament’s committees, which highlights the need for an integrated plan for a green recovery.

Behaviour change does not normally happen overnight but, with lockdown, rapid behaviour change has been forced on us. The committee heard from communities across Scotland about how central a sense of community has been during lockdown and how important it will be to build on that as we recover. For almost a year, people have been working locally and from home. They have been travelling less, buying locally, supporting local producers, shops and suppliers and using local services. Many people have also been walking, cycling, getting out and connecting with nature more, which has had positive impacts on our climate and on our mental and physical health. However, we urgently need to capture and lock in those positive behaviours, so the Government needs to get moving on that.

The Committee on Climate Change noted:

“There is an opportunity to embed new social norms, especially for travel, that benefit well-being, improve productivity, and reduce emissions.”

We heard that it is essential that co-working spaces and local public sector hubs are developed to support remote working, improve rural connectivity and strengthen community spirit. We must improve how we build local capacity and decision making in our communities and provide greater fiscal autonomy to do so in order to build a more resilient, just and healthy society and environment and to put in place the foundations on which we can build a more sustainable economy.

As many members said, the Government needs to deal with the issue of policy incoherence. Currently, Government and the wider public sector are in some cases failing to work collaboratively or in a joined-up fashion. The recovery should take an integrated approach that transcends sectoral boundaries and builds on recognised social indicators to deliver national outcomes, particularly on the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

The general principles on which to build a green recovery are clear, but there is a lack of clarity about how the Government will make progress on delivering those national outcomes and where the responsibility to deliver sits in the various sectors. One issue that was raised constantly was doubt about the adequacy of the rate of change and the action that is being taken. Almost universally, the witnesses suggested that we are still some way off achieving the genuine transformational change that is needed.

An example of where that is the case is the agriculture and land use sector. Of real concern is the CCC’s recent progress report, which states that new funding for agriculture and land use in Scotland

“is not enough to drive a structural realignment of rural funding in Scotland that properly incentivises carbon reduction and sequestration, nor climate adaptation”.

Chris Stark from the CCC once again repeated that he does not

“see a plan to modernise agriculture and bring us to the point at which it has a role in the net zero economy”,

and suggested that Scotland is

“clinging to the old model of agricultural support.”—[

Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee,

15 September 2020; c 11.]

That point was echoed by Professor Reay, who noted that, although the programme for government mentioned the land use strategy and plans for agriculture and for aligning post-common agricultural policy support with the net zero emissions target, there was still no detail about when pilot schemes would commence,

“what a new rural support regime might look like and how it might align with net zero and the green recovery”.—[

Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee

, 8 September 2020; c 38.]

That lack of clarity must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The committee also recognised that the pandemic has brought about changes in food practices, including the development of direct and positive relationships between food producers and consumers—for example, in the form of local milk and egg deliveries—and has emphasised the importance of local food provision in increasing community resilience. The Government must set out its plans to lock in those positive changes.

The committee recommended that the Government should set out new policies and support mechanisms for agriculture, forestry and other land use; that the role of land use in a green recovery should be embedded in the policies and proposals of the third land use strategy; that regional land use partnerships should be funded; and that regional land use frameworks should be developed into regional delivery mechanisms for new land use policies.

I welcome many of the Government’s commitments, but the minister must recognise that the vision for and delivery of a green recovery must go beyond the climate change plan update, which is only part of the picture. A wellbeing economy and a green recovery need to be at the very heart of the national performance framework, policy development and delivery, and the Scottish budget. We need a clear green recovery route map to signpost the way, with clear timetables and clear responsibilities for delivery across all parts of the public sector. Liz Smith touched on how important that is; indeed, it is vital for public sector investors.

Almost everyone who took part in the debate stressed the need for Government to take urgent action to maximise the green recovery. If we are to get close to what we all recognise are ambitious climate change targets—targets that Chris Stark described as being on “the fringes of credibility”—the Scottish Government cannot ignore those concerns. If the minister truly believes that the targets are achievable, he should set out a route map to enable us to have a shared understanding of where we want to be and a clear, evidence-based vision for us all to get behind.