In recognition of the huge importance of our peatlands in the fight against the climate and nature crises, in 2020, we set out ambitious plans to invest more than £250 million over a decade to restore at least 250,000 hectares of degraded peat by 2030. We publish updates on progress against those targets in our annual climate change plan monitoring reports. The latest of those, which was published on 26 May 2022, is available on the Scottish Government’s website.
Restoring peatlands will, as the minister said,
“help us fight climate change, support biodiversity and provide good, green jobs ... in rural communities.”
Those words are lifted straight from the Scottish Government’s website.
I will also repeat what the minister said. On page 70 of the Scottish National Party’s 2021 manifesto, there is a promise to restore
“250,000 hectares of ... peatland by 2030.”
However, the Government is failing dramatically and falling short of those targets. Instead, it is almost halving its £22 million commitment to peatland restoration. To meet its targets, the Government will need to restore on average 31,250 hectares of peatland per year until 2030. How does it intend to do that?
I might have thought that the fact that nearly 60,000 hectares of peatland, which was once degraded and emitting carbon, is now restored and sequestering carbon would be a good thing and would be welcomed even by the Tories.
I acknowledge that peatland science is in its infancy, as is the peatland industry. That is exactly why the Scottish Government is doing everything that we can to support the industry by providing that £250 million of funding over 10 years, and that is why peatland action—this is part of NatureScot, our nature agency—has been working to support restoration projects throughout the country since 2012.
The industry is in its infancy; it is only a few years old. Contractor capacity is limited, as is the number of technical advisers. However, the Scottish Government is working at pace to bridge the gap and to meet our ambitious targets.
I declare my role as Scottish Environment LINK’s nature champion for Scotland’s extraordinary blanket bogs. The carbon that is sequestered in Scotland’s blanket bogs equates to one third of the carbon that is held in the Amazon rainforest. Does the minister agree that, with that extraordinary resource at our disposal, those lands must be systematically restored to help Scotland to reach its climate change targets? Will she commit to working closely with industry partners, including, for example, onshore renewable electricity companies, to ensure that peatland restoration is a prime consideration of permissions? Will she make sure that national planning framework 4 planning guidance ensures that renewable energy generation on those lands delivers peatland restoration in partnership, and in a sensible and pragmatic way, to protect that vital asset and to deliver net zero targets?
I absolutely agree with Fiona Hyslop. Peatland restoration is an essential part of the linked challenge of the climate and nature crises, and it has the unique opportunity to provide co-benefits across our environment, our economy and our society.
I commit to continuing to engage closely with the renewables industry as we transition to net zero. That includes discussing ways in which the industry can balance the actions that it can take in relation to greenhouse gas mitigation and the protection of the natural world.
The member is correct in saying that Scotland’s planning system will play a vital role in responding to climate change, encouraging nature recovery and helping to deliver the crucial infrastructure that is needed to achieve our ambitions. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the final NPF4, but it will signal a turning point for planning, and we have been clear that responding to the twin challenge of climate change and nature loss will be central to it.