The Roundtable meetings bring together a wide range of public sector bodies, and examine how best to take forward the Scottish Government's commitment to protect and rebuild natural capital.
The theme of this year’s Roundtable was "Taking Action for Climate and Nature" and was chaired by Francesca Osowska, Chief Executive of Scottish Natural Heritage. The theme was pertinent given both climate and biodiversity emergencies were declared in 2019 by a wide range of organisations and governments worldwide. In Scotland, a Climate Emergency has been declared by the Scottish Government, (SG) with a State of Nature Report highlighting significant threats to Scotland’s biodiversity.
The meeting began with the Chair noting the increasing influence and traction that the natural capital agenda has gained. There was also a broad recognition that climate and biodiversity issues are intrinsically linked, with nature and nature-based solutions our best approach to both mitigate and adapt to climate change, and protect biodiversity.
Reducing emissions in Scotland - where we are, and the path ahead
A presentation from Chris Stark from the Committee on Climate Change provided a useful reminder of the scientific evidence underpinning our need to combat climate change. He also examined some successes in a Scottish context, before looking at challenges and opportunities that lay ahead to meet ambitious SG targets of net zero emissions by 2045.
In terms of emissions reductions in Scotland, many of the easier ‘wins’ have already been achieved, mainly reductions in coal power generation, and more fundamental and difficult choices lie ahead. Key areas of focus in future will likely be agriculture and land use, in which many powers are already devolved.
The remainder of the meeting took the form of a response and discussion to the presentation, with a focus on the necessary investments to improve Scotland’s stock of natural capital, and also how best to articulate the economic benefits of adopting a natural capital approach.
Agriculture and land management - opportunities
Given over 70% of land area in Scotland is designated for agricultural use, it was agreed the farming sector is well placed to help adopt new approaches, that give greater emphasis to protecting and enhancing natural capital. However, there was also broad agreement that whilst there is a need to accelerate land use change in Scotland, this must be done in such a way to benefit nature, the economy, and communities. The importance of placing the views of rural communities centrally within change, in a comprehensive process of engagement, will be key to successful outcomes.
Redesigning land management support, currently provided through the Common Agricultural Policy, could offer good opportunities to invest in nature based solutions to the twin climate and biodiversity crises. An increased ‘stewardship’ approach to land management is likely, increasing woodland creation, peatland restoration and other nature-based solutions. In a more urban context, greater investments will be required in green infrastructure and vacant and derelict land.
Better engagement with business
In general, it was agreed there remains a real need to make ‘natural capital’ more tangible for business in Scotland, especially SMEs, whether in rural or urban areas. For business, studying their supply chains closely will be important to increase sustainability. An increased awareness of both Natural Capital Accounting and the Natural Capital Protocol can play a big role in helping to achieve this, join up thinking, and different agendas across Scotland.
Ultimately, it was agreed good governance, effective regulation and financial incentives (e.g. post-CAP) will be crucial to allow the transformational change we require, across both the public and private sectors. This will need to be joined-up with UK government policies, and also in an international context, it is important not simply to export our emissions to other countries, whether in offsetting or in supply chains.
An exciting year ahead...
The meeting closed with the reminder that 2020 will be a huge year for the natural environment, with the eyes of the world on Scotland twice – for an international biodiversity event in April, before Glasgow hosts the UN Climate Summit (COP26) in November.
It is important that Scotland facilitates an ambitious course of action with strong backing from government and civil society, that helps to protect and enhance natural capital, not just in a Scottish context but for the rest of the world too. Whilst this is unlikely to be either easy or straightforward, the importance to be ambitious is quite clear.