Scotland’s Nature

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 20 September 2023.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-10498, in the name of Rhoda Grant, on protecting Scotland’s nature. I invite those members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

That urgent action is needed on the climate emergency and its impact is something that unites us all. Rural Scotland is in a strong position to contribute, with our potential for tree planting and our large peatlands acting as carbon sinks. There is also agreement on providing public funds to incentivise action. However, private green finance is not just mooted by the Scottish Government; it is being actively encouraged to finance change. Many Scots will share a deep unease at inviting private financiers to make money exploiting Scotland’s natural heritage. We know that, where there is no private profit, there is no private finance. Therefore, is the policy rationale for using private finance for nature sound, especially if it offsets pollution elsewhere?

The most quoted reason for using private finance has been the £20 billion gap in the funding that is required for nature. However, it turns out not to be a £20 billion gap at all. Jon Hollingdale, the retired chief executive of the Community Woodlands Association, has cast significant doubt on the figure. It is now clear that the £20 billion figure that was produced by the Green Finance Institute—an organisation claiming that it is led by bankers—is grossly overestimated. NatureScot now says that it agrees in large part with Jon Hollingdale’s analysis and the Scottish Government, in parliamentary answers, has also revealed that other aspects of the Green Finance Institute’s report do not stand up to scrutiny. Even the Green Finance Institute seeks to distance itself from that figure, making it clear it always said that its data was heavily qualified.

With the £20 billion figure crumbling under scrutiny, we now see NatureScot throwing out alternative funding gap figures. For peatland restoration alone, it says that a figure of £3 billion to £4 billion is needed, against the £250 million that it has available up to 2030. However, the problem is not the lack of available investment; the real gap is in the underspend of the budgets that the Parliament has voted for.

Both tree planting and peatland targets are not being met by a substantial margin. In peatlands, less than half the annual budget is being spent. The recent programme for government set out the expectation for peatland restoration for next year as 10,700 hectares, which is less than half the annual target. At this rate, getting up to target will take the rest of the decade. To suggest that we can spend up to £4 billion of private finance on peatland restoration any time soon, when we cannot spend £10 million today, is simply not credible.

The case for needing private finance investment looks flimsy at best. We understand the reasons for the inability to spend the available budgets, which are set out in a recent Scottish Government social research paper, “Mobilising private investment in natural capital”. Key among them is landowner reluctance to commit to land use changes. Landowners will lose autonomy over their land use for up to 100 years, when they cannot see the future circumstances, the costs and how those might change. Even landowners suggest that offering more money—public or private—is probably not the answer.

There are other ways to increase tree planting and peatland restoration. Degraded peatland is emitting, not sequestering, carbon. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and environmental health professionals are constantly acting to monitor and act on air, noise, water and wider environmental pollution. If we consider carbon emission as another form of environmental pollution, what are we doing to regulate it? Regulation could create the right incentives to fix our emitting peatlands. With continuing restoration grants, there could be no excuse not to act. However, where is the policy discussion on that and other forms of regulation that can be considered alongside whether private finance has any legitimate role?

Instead of addressing the practical challenges to ensure that our current budgets for climate investment can be spent, and instead of examining all policy options, the Government has allowed itself to be dazzled by the pitches of private financiers. I know that the United Nations climate change conference of the parties and the national strategy for economic transformation encourage consideration of private green finance, but COP does not tell us what specific actions we must take. We must consider the policy approach that is best suited to our circumstances.

We would tackle the issue very differently. Scottish Labour would not adopt the neoliberal economic preference of Green and Scottish National Party ministers for selling off our natural capital. We would set out and consult widely on a range of policy options that exist and build consensus on the best way for Scotland to move forward. That is what I urge the Scottish Government to do now.

I move,

That the Parliament reaffirms its recognition of the climate emergency and the need to achieve a net zero future; recognises that Scotland has the potential for more carbon sequestration capacity by restoring peatlands and extending tree cover; regrets that the available budgets for woodland planting and peatland restoration are underspent by significant margins, and that targets are not being met; notes that the Scottish Government has promoted the use of private green finance to fill a purported £20 billion gap in funding for nature in Scotland, but that this figure, published by the Green Finance Institute, has been called into question and is now recognised by NatureScot as an overestimate; regrets that there was a lack of due diligence carried out by the Scottish Government; agrees that investment in the climate transition is crucial, but believes that Scotland’s natural environment should not be allowed to be used for greenwashing by private corporations, and calls on the Scottish Government to carry out a full and transparent consultation on the policy options and finance mechanisms available to advance Scotland’s capacity to sequestrate carbon.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I welcome today’s debate. The twin nature and climate emergencies are ever more urgent, and they represent an existential threat that simply cannot be ignored. Last year, nations around the world agreed the global biodiversity framework—an ambitious global agreement to halt biodiversity loss by the end of the decade and to reverse the catastrophic declines that we have seen in our natural world. It is a global agreement to tackle the nature emergency. It is the same determination and commitment to collaboration that led to the Paris agreement on the climate emergency.

The United Kingdom Government might abandon its responsibilities, but this Government stands by its promises to the international community and to future generations.

Restoring Scotland’s peatlands and forests is critical to meeting both our climate and nature commitments. We are making good progress. Last year, we restored 7,500 hectares of peatland, up from 5,400 the previous year—

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

You say that you are making good progress, but you have not even reached 50 per cent of your target that was set out in 2018. Is that good progress?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members should remember to speak through the chair.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

It is indeed good progress.

We can see the year-on-year progress and the enormous effort that the sector is making. The growth in the restoration rate reflects an increasing delivery capacity, and we are confident of positive results this year.

The woodland targets that we have set for ourselves also reflect our ambition to increase planting, not only to sequester carbon but, through the planting of native woodland, to protect and preserve our rich biodiversity. Although weather and other factors can impact progress, we know that we need to do more there, too.

Doing more means continuing to build capacity and understanding across the land management sector. [

Interruption

.]

No—I am going to make progress.

It also means investing more money. To prevent climate disaster, we are all in agreement that the infrastructure investment that we need will come not just from the public sector but from the private sector.

All parts of society have a role to play, and that is true for nature restoration. Yes, we need public investment—and this Government is delivering that—but we also need the private sector to take responsibility.

The finance gap, as the global biodiversity framework calls it, is an estimate of how much more investment is needed to protect and restore our natural environment. Globally, the United Nations Environment Programme has estimated that, by 2050, the gap could be as high as US$4 trillion. In Scotland, the only substantive estimate to date has come from the Green Finance Institute in 2021. Is either of those figures exact? No—they are estimates that are based on a wide range of assumptions.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

Did the minister actually look at the document? It contains figures for implementing the right to roam in Scotland, which we have enjoyed for decades, as well as other aspects where private finance is not allowed. Did she read the document before she pinned her hopes to it?

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I am absolutely familiar with that document and with the assumptions that are in it. Rhoda Grant is quite right that there are assumptions in the document. That is the only figure that we currently have towards understanding what the gap might be in Scotland. We are continuing work to get more exact figures and to understand that.

However, those numbers are merely indicative of the size of the challenge, and that challenge is huge. In our biodiversity investment plan, we will set out how we will rise to that challenge.

Investing in our environment is also about investing in our communities. That is why we have published the interim principles for responsible investment and are now developing a market framework that builds on that and reflects our vision of a values-led, high-integrity market that ensures that communities benefit.

Our aim is to support diversification of land ownership and empower communities—goals that will also be reflected in our forthcoming proposals for a land reform bill.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I am sorry—I am running out of time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The minister is about to conclude, because she is over time.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

We will, therefore, ensure that those plans are informed by the on-going debate over how we ensure that investment in nature supports our land reform agenda, including the recent Scottish Land Commission report “Natural Capital and Land Reform”.

I am proud of our public investment in nature.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, you need to conclude and move your amendment.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

At the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow, we announced the new multiyear funding for nature restoration—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, I asked you to conclude and move your amendment. Please do so now.

Photo of Lorna Slater Lorna Slater Green

I apologise.

I move amendment S6M-10498, to leave out from first “regrets” to end and insert:

“affirms its commitment to the Global Biodiversity Framework, which commits countries to “closing the biodiversity finance gap” and, in Target 19, calls for countries to “Substantially and progressively increase the level of financial resources from all sources”; commends the increase in public investment in nature through the Nature Restoration Fund and Peatland ACTION; recognises the vital role of the Forestry Grant Scheme in supporting woodland creation and sustainable forest management; agrees that investment in the climate transition is crucial, and that Scotland’s natural environment should not be allowed to be used for greenwashing by private corporations; recognises that tackling the climate and nature crises requires all parts of society to act; welcomes, therefore, the Scottish Government’s Interim Principles for Responsible Investment, which are designed to support a values-led, high-integrity market that ensures that communities benefit, and to support diverse and productive land ownership, as well as the recent publication of a consultation on Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy and an underpinning delivery plan, which will be followed by an investment plan; further welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to progress a Land Reform Bill and an Agriculture Bill; notes the valuable contribution made by the Scottish Land Commission in its report, Natural Capital and Land Reform, and looks forward to the Scottish Government’s response to its recommendations, and calls on all parties to work constructively to restore Scotland’s natural environment.”

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a partner in J Halcro-Johnston and Sons, which is an organic farming business; the owner of a croft on Orkney; and a member of NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates. I am also the species champion for the Caledonian pinewoods.

I do not think that anyone in this chamber needs telling that Scotland’s natural environment is one of the most beautiful and ecologically varied in the world, and it is key to our meeting our net zero and biodiversity goals. Indeed, it is not hard to talk up Scotland’s natural environment or to extol its many virtues. I am particularly fortunate, as someone who lives in and represents the Highlands and Islands, that one of our most stunning and diverse areas is where I call home.

However, we need to do more than just talk because, all too often, that is what the Scottish Government has done. The reality is that, by consistently missing restoration targets and by launching numerous strategies that neither protect against biodiversity loss nor expand our natural capital, the SNP has failed to protect nature in Scotland.

It is estimated that 80 per cent of the UK’s peatlands, the majority of which are in Scotland, are damaged and in need of restoration, but the Scottish Government has not met its peatland restoration targets for five years now. Since 2000, almost 16 million trees, the equivalent of more than 1,700 every day, have been felled on public land in Scotland to make way for wind farms.

The Scottish Government’s proposal for a natural environment bill will set out a framework for statutory targets for nature restorations, targets that will be binding on Government in the same way that climate change targets require the Scottish Government to work towards meeting its net zero targets. The consultation on the strategic framework for biodiversity states that

“statutory targets will signal a clear long-term direction of travel, and drive and focus action.”

However, in June, it was announced that the Scottish Government had missed four out of its previous five legally binding emissions targets.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

I am sorry, but it is a short debate. I have only four minutes, and I am opening for the Conservatives.

The Scottish National Party-Green Government has no problem with setting targets; where it falls down is hitting them. To hit those targets will require effort from stakeholders across Scotland and across many sectors, and at the heart of those efforts will be Scotland’s farmers, crofters and land managers. As custodians of large parts of the land, they are already at the forefront of protecting our natural environment, supporting biodiversity and managing land for the future. However, as we debated only last week, Scotland’s agricultural sector has been left in limbo with the Scottish Government’s failure to publish its new agriculture bill or to provide details of how this sector, which is vital to Scotland and its natural environment, will be supported.

If the new bill is to focus on food security, the support that is available should surely focus on that, too. The Government is looking for farmers and others to support the protection of nature, the encouragement of biodiversity and the meeting of climate targets, but Scottish ministers should be looking at how that can be supported from the net zero budget in the same way that it does for other sectors.

I very much recognise that my connection with the natural environment stems largely from being brought up on our farm in Orkney, which has always been rich in biodiversity, with wetland, moorland, coastal areas and—believe it or not—trees. Given the importance of engaging with the next generation, our amendment acknowledges NatureScot’s report “Teaching, learning and play in the outdoors: a survey of provision in Scotland in 2022”, which highlights how outdoor education and play stimulate children’s connection with nature. I recognise the importance of all efforts to educate wider society of the work that is being done to protect Scotland’s natural environment.

I welcome this short debate on what is an important subject. The Scottish Conservatives want to strengthen environmental protection on land and sea. We would establish a cleaner seas fund to get harmful products such as plastic out of our water, and we want to increase tree planting, create a third national park and protect our green belts.

We are ambitious for Scotland’s natural environment, and we will work with others to protect and restore it. We need more than just more words or more targets from Scottish ministers; they need to start delivering. So far, that delivery has been lacking.

I move amendment S6M-10498.1, to insert at end:

“; regrets that, despite the pivotal role played by farmers, crofters and land managers in reducing emissions, capturing carbon, promoting biodiversity and restoring habitats through hard work, innovation and investment, they continue to be left in the dark over future support and await clarity regarding the proposed Agriculture Bill; agrees that investment is crucial to meet Scotland’s net zero goals; recognises the UK Government’s £1 billion in Track 2 funding for the carbon capture and storage project, to protect jobs and develop green skills, and acknowledges NatureScot’s Teaching, learning and play in the outdoors report, which highlights how outdoor education and play stimulate children’s connection to nature.”

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

As the proud species champion of the Scottish primrose, I very much welcome the fact that the Parliament is debating Scotland’s twin crises on climate and nature, and I am grateful to Rhoda Grant and her Labour colleagues for allowing us a further opportunity to do so. The subject is one to which we frequently return in debates, statements and questions in this chamber—and that is a good thing.

However, it would also be a good thing if we were not in a holding pattern. As the perilous state of our climate worsens and the need to address emissions and biodiversity loss becomes ever more urgent, the Scottish Government’s response has too often lacked focus, detail and urgency. By way of example, Rhoda Grant’s motion is right to note that Scotland is falling short of realising its significant potential in carbon sequestration. It comes on the back of years of targets for woodland generation and peatland restoration being missed—by some margin, on occasion. As concerning as that is, the fact that budgets in those areas appear to have been underspent beggars belief, and the confusion now about the extent of the funding gap, as well as questions over the method of plugging that gap, does not inspire confidence.

As members have said, it all comes against the backdrop of the Government missing its wider targets on emissions reductions. The targets might very well be world leading, but that only matters if there is a credible plan for their delivery. That has been a constant criticism of the Government’s approach from the UK Climate Change Committee, with Lord Deben and his colleagues all but begging Scottish ministers to detail how they plan to meet their targets. Meanwhile, just this week, Scotland’s council leaders sent out a stark warning that, without adequate funding and direction from Government, Scotland will continue to miss its climate targets.

There is an established pattern here. Announcements are made to grab headlines and shape a narrative, but seldom is the hard work done to figure out and explain how commitments will be delivered in practice. When failure can always be blamed on others, whether that be the UK Government, Opposition parties, local councils or the constitutional settlement, the incentive to invest in the painstaking work of delivery simply evaporates. On transport, heat and agriculture—the areas in which the need for emissions reductions are most pronounced—the Government must detail how it plans to support a just transition. In the meantime, with one in nine species in Scotland threatened with national extinction, ministers seem happy to launch another consultation on a biodiversity strategy that was supposed to have been implemented six months ago.

As for the carbon credit scheme, Rhoda Grant is right to express concern. Given the apparent lack of regulatory oversight, our former Green colleague, Andy Wightman, is correct to suggest that the proposals to sell off Scotland’s woodlands are “highly questionable”.

All in all, as I have said in previous debates, our climate ambitions might be world leading, but the Government’s delivery is world lagging. The Scottish Liberal Democrats will work with ministers and other partners on detailed proposals targeting the twin emergencies, but time is quite clearly running out.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

In opening the debate, Rhoda Grant referred to the revealing social research report, “Mobilising private investment in natural capital”, which was recently published by the Scottish Government. It confirms everything that she has said about private finance, with its focus on investment in carbon markets and peatland restoration and potentially links in forestry, too. The theory is that, if we plant more trees and restore our peatlands, they will generate large amounts of carbon credits to sell on the open market, paying for green investment and providing a good profit margin.

However, the report makes it clear that the carbon price is nowhere near enough for private investors and that that position is unlikely to change any time soon. The report suggests that public finance should underwrite the risk of the carbon price continuing to fall short, with a minimum of 30 years of public underwriting probably needed but a 50-year commitment perhaps being better. That is a massive commitment.

The report recommends that the grants currently offered to restore peatland be stopped in order to underwrite the future costs of private investment. However, that would result in an increase in the amount of money that would need to be spent from the Scottish Government’s budget. There would have to be, say, a £25 million contingent liability or budget requirement for cash guarantees of well over £1 billion over the suggested 50-year period. There is no free lunch here.

The social research report helpfully goes on to provide instructions on how we could release private finance with a contracts for difference approach. Let us not go there—as we have seen in the past week, that could fail spectacularly. We get dependent on private finance, and then it simply stops delivering until more taxpayer-funded guarantees are offered. What has happened is a timely warning to the Scottish Government.

Let us look at the alternatives for tackling our nature and biodiversity challenges. Rhoda Grant talked about the regulatory changes that we could make—I will add to those ideas. What about refocusing the work of the devolved Crown Estate Scotland? If it had a much clearer climate change challenge focus, it would benefit our communities now, through land purchases, future land holdings and the use of the proceeds from the sales of sea bed leases. Likewise, what more could Forestry and Land Scotland do? Unlike the SNP and Green Government, we would explore all the options for action, not just private green finance.

I want to finish on what needs to happen now. Liam McArthur made the point that we should not underspend our existing budget and that we should make that money work for our communities now. How will the Scottish Government support our rural communities now—our crofters, our farmers and our landowners—in playing a part in the just transition that we urgently need to create jobs and address our climate and biodiversity crisis? Critically, how will it spend the money that is budgeted to create benefits and tackle our climate emergency? On today of all days, the Scottish Government needs not just to talk a good game, but to deliver in practice for all our communities.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate, albeit with a more positive view than our Labour colleagues. Much has been done by the Scottish Government, and much remains to be done. I will touch on just a few of its climate change initiatives that are making a difference.

First, I draw attention to forestry. Last year, Scotland created 63 per cent of all new woodland in the UK, and we have by far the most ambitious woodland creation target in the UK. In the past five years, 51,000 hectares of new woodland have been established—the equivalent of 102 million trees. The Scottish Government continues to support and encourage landowners to boost the scale of their efforts. That is a success story, but there is always scope to achieve more.

The Scottish Government is acting now to tackle the nature crisis. The nature restoration fund is Scotland’s largest-ever fund for nature. Since it was launched, at the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—in Glasgow, the fund has invested more than £20 million, making a difference across the length and breadth of Scotland by restoring rivers and flood plains, regenerating our forests and helping our wildlife populations to recover.

This year, the Scottish Government has provided Scottish councils with an additional £5 million to develop nature networks across the country to help tackle the nature and climate crises. The fund will allow local authorities to develop new woodlands, hedgerows, wildflower meadows and ponds.

One area that needs attention is deer management, as deer can seriously damage growth prospects for young trees and vegetation. In some areas, deer fencing is in poor condition and does not protect young trees; improvements are needed there. Hand in hand with that is the need to restore our peatlands, which lock up huge amounts of carbon. The Scottish Government has previously announced a £250 million, 10-year funding package to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030. Although the 64,000 hectares of peatland that has so far been restored falls short of Scottish Government targets, the barriers that have been faced are gradually being addressed, and progress is accelerating.

Investing in natural capital needs money. Nothing can happen without funding, and there is no doubt that the public sector alone can never meet that need. That means calling on the private sector to invest responsibly in our natural capital. For it to do that, there needs to be a clear path, with transparency around investment opportunities. There also needs to be a fair return on the capital invested. Private investment is crucial to achieving net zero, and many tens of billions of pounds of investment will be needed to achieve that. It is essential that natural capital has the ability to generate fair profits in order to service the debts that will be incurred and that that is factored in to every project. A key point to remember is the need to ensure that our people and our communities are not disadvantaged and that benefit will accrue to both the investor and the community.

This summer, we watched in horror as one natural disaster after another filled our TV screens. People in so many countries were losing all their possessions and, in some cases, even their lives. The climate crisis is with us now, it is worsening and I do not see the strong and decisive leadership at Westminster that is needed to take action against it. I genuinely despair when I see both the Labour and Tory parties at Westminster rolling back on green undertakings that they have made. There is no choice about this: we must adapt to our changing circumstances and respond to the climate change threat, or we will face the consequences.

I am pleased that, while Westminster is watering down its net zero targets, the Scottish Government is taking clear action to address climate change. Others must follow.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

What we are holding the SNP-Green Government to account for this afternoon is its relationship with big capital. Under the green finance initiative—backed by Government, trusted by finance and led by bankers, we are told—it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hampden & Co, a private bank for high-net-worth clients; Lombard Odier investments, an asset management company that offers

“investment capabilities spanning an innovative spectrum of major and alternative asset classes”, whatever that means; and Palladium International, the transnational corporate private outsourcing consultancy.

So, what we are witnessing is the fusion of venture capital, private equity groups, sovereign wealth funds and the state, and it is all being overseen by a minister who tells us that she is proud—proud—to hand over Scotland’s nature recovery to the grasping hands of these asset managers. This process is not bottom up; it is top down. It represents the entrenchment of privilege rather than its removal.

It is a redistribution of power and wealth, but it is a redistribution of power and wealth that is going in precisely the wrong direction. It is a system of commercialism that ushers in not simply private profit but private advantage. So, I say to the minister: whatever happened to the idea of the earth as a common treasury? What about the common good and the commonwealth? This private extractive capital is not remotely compatible with the Government’s stated aims of land reform, just transition and community wealth building; it is the polar opposite.

The Government’s slogan is “equality, opportunity and community”, but, in this plan, it has abandoned the goals of equality and community in favour of opportunity for the speculators. The Government has turned its back on an economy

“of the people, by the people, for the people” and has put in its place this grotesque alternative. Our nature is being colonised for nothing more than wealth asset growth, turning it into a financial commodity to be bought and sold and—worse—to be marketed as a vehicle for the avoidance of tax.

Under its market framework for investment, mentioned in the programme for government, are we even to be told who these investor clients—those who will use our land, our trees and our peatlands to greenwash their cash—are? Will we get full disclosure of all the investors? Will we ever be told how much of the money comes from secretive offshore trusts paying no tax in any jurisdiction? Those are not abstract questions; they are questions about what is happening in Scotland today. If we want the radical change that the nature and climate emergency demands, we must not accept the limits of power and money in their present form. We must change those limits, rebalance that power, widen those horizons and build up the confidence of the people.

A century ago, Tom Johnston declared:

“Our old nobility is not noble.”

Well, there is nothing noble about this new nobility either. The Scottish Government needs to understand why there is anger out there about it, why there is impatience for change and why the people who elect us are crying out for a real, responsible, democratic, ethical, socialistic alternative.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

As we have heard today, our natural environment is in a perilous condition. Scotland might be one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but it is also one of the most nature depleted. It is ranked 212th out of 240 countries in the biodiversity intactness index. To put that in context, one in nine species in Scotland faces extinction, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The good news is that the Scottish Government accepts the need to act. The bad news is that it has not been successful. Earlier this year, NatureScot reported a year-on-year decline of 2.5 per cent in the number of habitats that are in favourable condition.

Today’s motion highlights the lack of progress in peatland restoration and woodland planting. Indeed, the Woodland Trust warned about a lack of resources for woodland recovery almost a year ago.

Then we have the Aichi targets, which are aimed at preventing biodiversity loss—more than half of which the Scottish Government missed. A subsequent report from Scottish Environment LINK pointed to a decline in biodiversity over the previous decades and concluded:

“The current biodiversity duty and the strategies have therefore failed to halt loss or generate any recovery”.

I raise that issue to underscore that good intentions are not enough. The SNP and Greens cannot keep blundering on, underfunding policies, missing targets and offering that tired old mea culpa, “Lessons must be learned.”

It is welcome to see statutory nature restoration targets considered as part of the natural environment bill, but any such targets must be fit for purpose. For one thing, what do we mean by “nature restoration”? Is it a pre-determined baseline or a fully resilient ecosystem? Likewise, what is the timeframe? The Scottish biodiversity strategy used 2045, which is perhaps enough of a balance between a close enough date to focus minds but far enough off to allow for delivery.

Ultimately, it is delivery that counts, so we need to be mindful that simply designating a target as statutory is no guarantee of success. We have only to look at emissions targets for proof of that—the Scottish Government has missed them eight times in the past 12 years.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I actually agree with Maurice Golden. Does he agree with me that, when things that put into place actions to get us to net zero targets come to Parliament for us to vote on, it is incumbent on all of us to vote for them?

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

Yes.

Alongside targets, we need robust means of holding the Scottish Government to account. A dedicated Scottish environmental court would be one such mechanism, offering better accountability and enforcement as well as an opportunity to address the fragmentation in the current model, develop greater technical expertise in the justice system and improve public access to environmental justice. Sadly, the narrow scope of the review of environmental governance looks like a missed opportunity to progress that.

We must harness the overwhelming public support for our natural environment and the appetite for action in this chamber and start delivering.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I will start on a point of agreement with the Labour motion. Despite Sir Keir Starmer’s telling his shadow cabinet, “I hate tree huggers,” in response to a presentation from his climate and net zero spokesperson, Labour’s motion reaffirms its recognition of the global climate emergency.

We have huge potential for more carbon sequestration, carbon capture and peatland restoration. I will unashamedly talk about some of the fantastic examples of promoting and protecting nature activity that are taking place in Dumfries and Galloway, in my South Scotland region.

We are at a tipping point for nature. It is in decline around the globe, with about 1 million species already facing extinction. Restoring nature is crucial and will reduce carbon emissions. Businesses are rising to the challenge of the global climate emergency. Although that is key in helping to meet our climate change targets, it is also bringing economic growth, particularly to our rural areas.

There is a fantastic company in Dumfries and Galloway that I have visited on numerous occasions—most recently with the Minister for Energy and the Environment—and it is leading the way in the field of carbon capture. Carbon Capture Scotland, which is based in Crocketford near Dumfries, has a combined investment of £120 million, including funding from the Scottish Government, to remove 1 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

CCS is working with farmers, distillers and firms that generate anaerobic digestion energy from waste to capture CO2 and put it to good use elsewhere or remove it from the atmosphere permanently. CCS uses captured CO2 to produce dry ice, which caters for the needs of the pharmaceutical and food transport industries. That makes those industries more sustainable, and CCS proudly stands as the UK’s second-largest producer of dry ice.

The company hopes to increase its number of employees to 500 and is a great example of how we can use anaerobic digestion, including through agriculture, to bring economic growth and protect our environment. I would be interested in hearing how the Scottish Government aims to engage and support rural and urban anaerobic digestion in the future.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has scaled up its investment in nature restoration, including peatland restoration. In Dumfries and Galloway, the Crichton Carbon Centre has a project called peatland connections, which highlights the significance of the Galloway peatlands through a range of practical and community engagement initiatives. It is part funded by the Scottish Government.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

We do not have time for interventions in these wee, four-minute time slots.

I am interested in promoting the peatland restoration work that is taking place in south-west Scotland.

The team at NatureScot has been working with external partners on the restoration of degraded, eroding and modified peatlands. That is one of the most effective ways of locking in carbon and supporting the promotion of nature. It offers a clear, nature-based solution to the climate crisis.

I visited one of the peat bogs at Moss of Cree near Wigtown with Dr Emily Taylor, who is the Crichton Carbon Centre general manager and a specialist in deep peat. The Moss of Cree project, which involves peat measuring 6m deep, shows how the peatland ACTION restoration programme can support landowners and land managers through the process of peatland restoration, from initial ideas and planning through to successful delivery. The farmer Ian McCreath has worked closely with the programme, which helped him to put in a successful funding application to create a 62 hectare forest-to-bog restoration project and bring it to fruition. That project is a fantastic case study. I invite the minister to come and visit the Crichton Carbon Centre to see that vital work.

Time is short this afternoon. I look forward to hearing the minister’s response and to continuing to progress the promotion and protection of our nature in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

We are seeing attacks from the Tories and Labour on the action that is necessary to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. Labour attacks action on the nature crisis on the same day as Rishi Sunak cancels action on the climate. Those are two sides of the same political coin; such politicians think only of the next election rather than the next generation.

Nature deserves to be restored for its own sake, but woodlands, peatlands and wetlands can also help us to lock up the climate emissions that are genuinely unavoidable.

The global biodiversity framework that was agreed at the 15th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological DiversityCOP15—recognised the urgent need to scale up nature restoration and the sheer scale of the investment that is required. To close the global biodiversity finance gap, hundreds of billions of dollars are required every year. No country can deliver that through public funding alone, which is why the global framework commits countries to

“Substantially and progressively” increase the finance that is available

“from all sources” to restore nature.

Scotland has already begun to ramp up public funding. I am proud that, since the Greens entered government, more than £20 million has already been allocated to projects across the country—from the River Tweed to the Cairngorms—through the nature restoration fund, which is putting species and habitats on the path to recovery.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I do not have time in hand.

Those public funds alone will not be enough to deliver the scale of change that is needed. That change certainly cannot be delivered within the constraints of a devolved Government with limited borrowing powers but, even if we had all the powers in this Parliament, the finance gap would remain huge and unbridgeable.

The fact is that the carbon and nature market already exists and is operating in Scotland. Responsible Governments must step in early to ensure that the market develops in a way that is truly ethical and benefits nature, the climate and communities.

I agree with colleagues that communities need to lead that change. I highlight Fife Coast and Countryside Trust’s excellent work in setting up nature finance Fife, which will channel public, philanthropic and private finance into nature projects across Fife. That is nature investment from the bottom up. It is driven by communities and not-for-profit organisations working with academics, landowners, councils, regulators and those with finance expertise. Its first investment project, on the Dreel burn in Fife, will involve restoration at a landscape scale.

The trust is also working on a community benefit standard as part of the newly formed nature finance certification alliance. That project aims to create a standard that demonstrates the wider benefits of nature restoration for all communities.

Although important work is being done with our communities, I note the valid concerns that have been raised by Community Land Scotland and others about the effect that the emerging market could have on land prices. Given that Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in the developed world, that cannot be overlooked. The problem has already been recognised, including through changes to the woodland carbon code that, according to the Scottish Land Commission, had a cooling effect on demand for land for planting in 2022.

The commission has advised that

“There is nothing inherently contradictory in these ambitions if the tensions are addressed by deliberately shaping the markets and policies that drive delivery.”

The commission has made detailed recommendations to ensure that the right balance is struck across Government, and I look forward to the Parliament receiving the Scottish Government’s collective response on that.

The forthcoming agriculture and land reform bills will also help to redirect more public funds and put the public interest at the heart of landowners’ responsibilities. However, we need to take action at all levels if we are to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. All Governments will need to act with integrity, particularly on the issue of natural capital investment.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

We all recognise the growing importance and urgency of appropriately addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency. A recent report by the James Hutton Institute and NatureScot warned that considerable change is needed to stop nature loss here in Scotland. It points to factors that are indirectly contributing to that nature loss, which include our culture, education, economy, political systems and technology.

It is hugely important that we provide appropriate education. That includes teaching young people about how food arrives on our plates. We must educate primary and secondary pupils on the pivotal role that farmers play in ensuring the availability of good, nutritious produce and—equally important—their invaluable and often overlooked work in protecting Scotland’s nature.

Thousands of young people across Scotland are now able to learn about farming and agriculture, thanks to the sterling work of the Royal Highland Education Trust. That charity hosts events such as farm visits and provides free access to unbiased information about food production. Its work supports the country’s good food nation ambitions and showcases the work that farmers do in protecting our climate and our unique biodiversity as they strive to deliver healthy, affordable and sustainable food.

During this debate, it is also important—regrettably—that we shine a spotlight on the so-called green credentials that the Scottish Government is so keen to boast about, especially on the world stage. Those green credentials do not exactly stack up.

As Jamie Halcro Johnston said, the SNP has failed repeatedly to reach its tree-planting targets, and let us not forget that, despite all its grandstanding on peat restoration, the Scottish Government has not met its target for five years. In 2018, Roseanna Cunningham boasted of the Scottish Government’s “game-changing” £250 million 10-year investment in peatland restoration. The Government committed to restoring 20,000 hectares of peatland every year as part of its climate change plan, but it is failing and—make no mistake—it is not a marginal failure. The area of peatland that has been restored is less than half the area set out in the target. In its most recent update, the Government admitted that just 7,000 hectares of peatland had been restored in 2022-23.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I am afraid that I do not have enough time.

A number of reasons for the shortfall have been cited, including a lack of capacity among the contractors that are needed to carry out the work and delays in planning processes. The Government also stated that

“limited demand for restoration from landowners and managers” was a problem. Once again, the Scottish Government had ambitious plans but its failure to deliver has been blamed on someone else.

I agree with Liam McArthur, who, unfortunately, is no longer in the chamber. When will the Scottish Government stop grandstanding and actually develop targets that are deliverable, rather than relying on magic? Farmers, crofters and land managers have been doing their bit to protect nature, reduce emissions and, as Emma Harper mentioned, support carbon capture projects, yet they are still waiting to have sight of the new agriculture bill, years after the rest of the UK has had such legislation. We should have had a new agriculture bill in place years ago, and it should already be delivering improvements for our environment.

Less than a year ago, when the CCC published what Chris Stark called

“the most damning report we have produced on the Scottish Government”, he said that the Scottish National Party’s statutory climate targets were

“increasingly moving out of view” and in danger of becoming

“meaningless”.

He called what the CCC published “the most damning report”, and that is exactly what it is. He said that the report was a “red flag”. Simply put, the SNP-Green Government needs to be shown the red card when it comes to its green credentials.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

This has been a very interesting debate. I have been schooled on private finance by the architects of the private finance initiative and on targets by a party whose Government has just abandoned its target to get to net zero. That said, there has been a lot of consensus about where we need to be.

I particularly want to talk about peat bog restoration. That is something that is very close to my heart, as I am the species champion for the small pearl-bordered fritillary, which is a species of butterfly that can be found in various bogs in North Lanarkshire, including Greenhead Moss and the RSPB Baron’s Haugh reservation in my constituency. Peat bogs are an important aspect of what we are doing and they are key to the council’s North Lanarkshire biodiversity action plan.

Managing and restoring Scotland’s nature requires a partnership approach and needs us all to step up, not just the Government. That is why I am so glad that the Government has developed interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital, which mean that, although investment is welcome and needed, it must be responsible, involve work with communities, be additional and verifiable, and have integrity. That is at the heart of what the Government is doing with the interim principles.

North Lanarkshire is not unique in its peat bog restoration. In December 2021,

New Scientist published an article by Alasdair Lane titled “Peatlands in peril: The race to save the bogs that slow climate change”. In that article, Scotland was pointed out as being an exemplar in the area. Finland, which lost 5 per cent of all its peatlands after world war 2, when it abandoned peat bogs for deforestation, has recognised that it has to bring peatland restoration back, and it is looking at the work that is going on in Scotland.

We know that, in the words of Hans Joosten, the secretary general of the International Mire Conservation Group,

“carbon goes in slowly, but comes out fast”.

Peat bog restoration is a long-term commitment and project. It takes up to 10 years to restore peat bogs and ensure that there is no carbon emission from them where they have been degraded. That is the challenge that we have.

The

New Scientist article highlighted the work that is going on in Scotland, particularly by the University of the Highlands and Islands, in conjunction with the University of Nottingham, to monitor peat bogs and their behaviour. We know that peat bogs are environments that change and develop over time. At times, they can release more carbon dioxide than at others. Those universities are working with satellite technology that uses radio waves that can monitor and accurately measure peat bogs, not just in Scotland but across the globe. With the recent discovery of the biggest tropical peat bog on the planet, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we know that this is a world issue and a world challenge.

The article also talks about the tensions in Indonesia, which is trying to restore its peat bogs. That means that farmers are being challenged to give up farmland and use their land in a different way.

That is why I am so glad that the Government’s work comes in conjunction with a proposed land reform bill that should help us to meet some of our targets. I will leave it there.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

We move to winding-up speeches.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Conservative

I thank colleagues in the Labour Party for bringing this important debate to the chamber. We are incredibly lucky to live in a country that has such a rich diversity of plants, animal species and fauna, just some of which have been captured in the debate.

I am privileged to represent one of the most beautiful parts of the UK—the north-east of Scotland, which balances our respect for nature with industry and entrepreneurship.

The SNP is great at making promises. Unfortunately, it is even better at breaking them, particularly when it comes to the environment. Four out of five of its legally binding annual emissions targets have been missed: carbon dioxide emissions targets have been missed; domestic travel emissions targets have been missed; business emissions targets have been missed; and energy supply emissions targets have been missed. That point was well made by my colleague Maurice Golden. The SNP-Greens cannot keep blundering on—lessons must be learned.

Peatlands, which are mentioned in the motion and were covered by Rhoda Grant, are at the heart of our natural environment but, again, that target has been missed by the Government. As Finlay Carson said, the Government committed to restoring 20,000 hectares of peatlands each year but, in its most recent update, it admitted to restoring just 7,000 hectares in 2022-23. That is another missed target, but Colin Beattie thinks that that is success. It is somewhat ironic that a Government with the Greens pulling the strings has failed so dismally at improving Scotland’s natural environment.

The Scottish Conservatives have a clear policy to improve our natural environment and protect our economy. We would establish nature networks across Scotland to safeguard protected areas and species. We would bring forward an ambitious nature bill to strengthen environmental protection. We would establish a £25 million cleaner seas fund, increase tree planting and create a new national park.

In the time that I have remaining, I will pick up on two of those points.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Conservative

No—I will not.

We lost millions of trees during storm Arwen but, as Jamie Halcro Johnston mentioned, since 2000 we have lost millions more trees felled on public land to make way for wind turbines. We have a target of planting 18,000 hectares annually and increasing the proportion of native species. Forestry is a key industry in Scotland, and we must work with Forestry and Land Scotland to ensure a good mix of species that benefits the timber industry and complements our tourism and sports industries.

We need spaces that are open for walkers and cyclists to enjoy. National parks are a key issue for many communities. People have been waiting patiently for the Scottish Government to act. The campaign for a new national park was launched in 2013, and the Government eventually agreed to designate one more by 2026. I hope that the minister will update us on the matter.

All colleagues have made important points in the debate, reflecting the importance of the topic to every area of Scotland from the Highlands to the south of Scotland. Lorna Slater mentioned a gap in funding but offered no ideas on how it will be bridged—a point that Liam McArthur made. Jamie Halcro Johnston and Finlay Carson made the point that farmers, crofters and landowners are a key part of the solution. They are looking for guidance, but at present there is a vacuum.

Liam McArthur was also right to point out that the Government has made no real plans and has only chased headlines. There is no guidance for local government, no money for local Government for adaptation and no guidance for farmers—just headlines. As Maurice Golden said, good intentions are not enough—it is delivery that counts.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

We have heard about the different approaches that parties would take and where they would concentrate their efforts, some with detail and some with less than adequate detail. The UK Government today clarified its stance, which is largely based on inaction and rollback. Rishi Sunak thinks that it is all too difficult and expensive to do; perhaps it would not go well with his election strategy.

In Scotland, it is important that we focus on what we can do as a country despite the noise that comes from Westminster—we need to get on with it ourselves. The First Minister spoke during his New York visit this week about the tangible choices that we can make alongside the other countries that are at the forefront of tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The contrast with the Prime Minister’s approach could not be starker.

Ms Slater outlined in her opening speech some of the actions that the Government has already taken and the further ambitions that we hold. Given that peatland restoration is a responsibility in my portfolio, I will concentrate my initial remarks on that before I talk about other people’s contributions.

We had a 40 per cent increase in peatland restoration last year compared with the year before, and we project that there will be a further 40 per cent increase this year, with the highest budget—£30 million—ever allocated.

To date, 174 projects have been registered under the peatland code, which represents 80 per cent of all UK registrations, but people are right to say that that is not enough. We had lofty ambitions on this, and we still do, but are we doing enough? No, we are not. We are working to see where we can take action so that we can do enough.

Restoring our peatlands is a very young industry, and we are working hard to signal to our young workforce, in particular, that it is an area of conservation and tackling climate change that has long-term career prospects. Peatland Action is encouraging new entrants, through training for crofting communities and island communities, in particular, and across the country we are creating a cohort of skilled and accredited restoration schemes that are designed through the SRUC graduate-level courses. We have to build on the number of people who are experts in this field to help our land managers and landowners to restore the degraded peatland that they might have on their land, and we are building a cohort of experts in the field to do that.

I want to mention some contributions. Sarah Boyack suggested using public bodies to tackle climate change. I will give her an example from Glen Prosen, where Forestry and Land Scotland is already working to reforest native woodland, sequestering carbon and sustaining nature. Of course, that work needs to be done in addition to working with the right private investors.

The

interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital

have obviously escaped Richard Leonard’s attention; he decided that he would make Lorna Slater sound like some sort of disaster capitalist. The principles say that investment should deliver integrated land use, have public, private and community benefit, demonstrate engagement and collaboration, be ethical and values led and be of high environmental integrity.

The Scottish Land Commission is developing new guidelines on securing social and economic community benefits from investment in land and natural capital.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Will the member refer to the regulatory points that were made by Rhoda Grant, and also to my comments about Crown Estate Scotland? There are changes that could be made as well as spending the budget.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

With the best will in the world, I am not going to let anyone dictate what I say in the rest of my speech; I have another few people to mention.

Colin Beattie pointed to the climate justice element of the debate and railed against any rolling back of previous commitments. I also want to point out—

The Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that you are required to conclude, minister.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I will conclude; I will just say one thing. Mark Ruskell said that the two Opposition parties have one eye on the next election but do not have one on the next generation, and he was absolutely right. We have our sights firmly on the next generation, and we are taking action that is going to protect and enhance biodiversity, and we will reach our climate change with those things in mind.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

The Scottish Government has consistently promoted the use of private finance to meet our rightly ambitious climate and nature targets. It has done so based on an uncritical acceptance of the so-called funding gap that was identified by the Green Finance Institute which, as we heard from Richard Leonard, is an organisation that is led by bankers.

As we have also heard today, that alleged gap of £20 billion has not been demonstrated by the Scottish Government and is now not recognised by NatureScot, which has publicly stated that it is an overestimate.

The recent report by independent forestry and land use consultant Jon Hollingdale, raises significant doubts about the credibility of the Green Finance Institute.

In the minister’s closing remarks, we should have heard an acknowledgement on the record of the irresponsible way in which the Scottish Government accepted those now discredited figures. Instead, the Scottish Government denied, deflected and doubled down.

In March, when I put it to minister Lorna Slater at a meeting of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee that pursuing a private finance model at this scale would have a negative impact on communities in the long term, I was told:

“The need for private finance for nature restoration is unquestioned.”

Well, I am questioning it. I was also told:

“The finance gap is £20 billion.”—[

Official Report

,

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee

, 14 March 2023, c 31, 32]

However, today the minister told us that that figure is only one estimate.

Private financiers are not accountable to the people of Scotland; the Scottish Government is. For a Government minister to assert such figures as fact without question is highly irresponsible, and to blithely outsource the meeting of Scotland’s environmental responsibilities based on unverified figures is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility. For a Government to sell its mandate and our precious natural resources to the highest bidder is shamefully telling of the way in which the Scottish Government operates.

If the Government continues with its private finance initiative, we face the prospect of Scotland’s land and natural resources being used as a greenwash for big polluters. As we heard from Rhoda Grant, those financiers will require a return on their investment, so, in return for funding nature restoration and carbon sequestration, carbon credits will be created and sold at a profit. Who will buy the credits? We have already seen that the principal beneficiaries of carbon credits are carbon polluters. Big emitters that have profited from environmentally damaging practices are being encouraged to pay to continue to pollute. Instead of Scotland’s rich natural resources benefiting the people of Scotland and contributing to the global response to the climate emergency, they will be used to absolve the sins of the biggest polluters.

Rather than selling indulgences to absolve polluters, the Scottish Government must fulfil its role to the people of Scotland—restoring nature and reducing emissions—not simply in order to meet targets but to secure a brighter future for us all. It is time for the Scottish Government to draw breath and consider all options to restore nature, not to simply hand over the reins to private financiers. I urge all members to support the Labour motion.