Land use rather than ownership should be at the fore in drive to halt climate change

Press Release

Debate around the existence of ‘green lairds’ oversimplifies the significant financial and regulatory challenges faced by land managers when tackling climate change.

Scottish Land & Estates, the rural business organisation, spoke ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the issue.

The organisation said it was never more vital that land use strategy was prioritised ahead of long-running deliberations over ownership if net zero targets were ever to achieved.

Stephen Young, Head of Policy at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Addressing what outcomes we want to achieve from use of Scotland’s land has never been more important than it is today. The climate emergency dictates that we need to make the right decisions on land use now to cut our carbon emissions and achieve net zero by 2045.

“We believe private, public, community and NGO landowners can and already do play their part in combatting climate change through policies such as increased woodland planting and restoration of our peatlands. It is unfortunate, however, that even the common goal we all share in improving our environment eventually comes back towards land reform and arguments over ownership. No matter who the owner is, public engagement is important, but judging people on their actions, rather than perceptions is equally important.

Land ownership is not a golden ticket to access funding and favorable tax arrangements. For example, public funding for capital projects often requires substantial match funding on the part of the landowner (and private investors) and such projects would not normally be economically viable without said funding. They are also subject to significant management and regulatory burdens over the life of the project in order to continue to receive funding and avoid penalties, similarly there is inherent risk for example of commercial forestry not surviving to the point where it can provide an economic return. The long-term nature of these investments also means there is a requirement for private capital to reduce the burden on the public purse.

“Carbon credits are not simply issued because someone owns the land, significant long-term investment and management is required. In the case of the Woodland Carbon Code for example, a project can only be included if it would not be economically viable without its support. Any project is a risk and that sits with the landowner - without carbon credits there would be less tree planting and therefore less investment in local contractors and local communities.

“Whilst many wish to pursue greater fragmentation of ownership, this would actually make it tougher for the Scottish Government to achieve its ambitious objectives. The government has targets for woodland creation (18,000 hectares annually in 2024/25) and peatland restoration (250,000 hectares by 2030) which would be almost impossible to achieve with a fragmented ownership of small areas of land. An integrated approach to land management so we can deliver on a landscape scale is the best hope we have for making the necessary changes we need to halt climate change.”