Members of Scotland’s first Climate Assembly have made 81 recommendations looking at how Scotland should change to "tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way".
A report was produced after more than 100 Scots from all walks of life were brought together to take part, with several virtual meetings occurring between November 2020 and March 2021.
The report, Recommendations for Action, sets out the recommendations agreed by consensus, and calls for urgent action from the Scottish Government to ensure that these are implemented. The recommendations range from a ban on single use packaging (including plastic bags) to the creation of a National Nature Service, providing rewilding and environmental protection jobs. Evidence was led by over 100 expert speakers from the likes of National Farmers' Union of Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Power and Community Land Scotland.
Introduction of a carbon land tax
The Assembly was in favour of introducing a carbon land tax to tax emissions created through land use and penalise land emitting more carbon than it captures. The John Muir Trust, an advocate of carbon land tax, published a policy paper - Delivering Large-scale Natural Carbon Capture on Land – earlier this year, and presented evidence to the Assembly on its findings.
The proposed tax would apply in a banded system. Landowners maximising natural carbon capture on their land (e.g. through woodlands or intact peatlands) would be exempt from the charges all together. Landowners liable to pay the tax would be able to move to lower tax bands by changing land use to increase carbon capture. The proposal suggests phasing in a carbon tax for large-scale landowners across Scotland, starting with a pilot scheme on properties in excess of 10,000 hectares, before rolling it out to all landholdings over 1,000 hectares in size.
Future subsidies for sustainable land management practices
Calls were made for the government to work with the farming community and develop a subsidy regime that encourages farmers to transition to more sustainable land management practices. It was noted the need to replace the current funding regime provides a valuable opportunity to refocus subsidies and policy on sustainable land management.
The Assembly proposed incentivising landowners to maximise the land available, to meet net zero targets, with a focus on sustainability and encouraging investment to dedicate underused land for carbon sequestration. It was noted that much of Scotland’s land is not suitable for crop growing, so restoration of degraded peatlands, woodland planting and improved soil management would provide huge potential for carbon absorption. In his evidence to the Assembly, National Farmers' Union of Scotland President (then President Elect), Martin Kennedy, emphasised that “NFU Scotland, and wider Scottish agriculture, are keen to work with Scottish Government to deliver on their ambitious Climate Change targets but we need to be supported to make the transformational changes required.”
Food carbon labelling
The introduction of food carbon labelling within five years was recommended. Labels would be required to show the real and total carbon content, not just the offset carbon footprint. Building on the successful roll out of the nutritional traffic light system, there should be clear, consistent labelling on produce, products and services, showing production, processing, transport and usage emissions to enable people to make informed choices. The development of a carbon calculator app was also suggested, alongside the labelling scheme, to give people an overall picture of their carbon footprint and a target to aim for.
Planning and building standards
The report also considered current planning and building standards and how these should be updated to help further protect the environment. The Assembly was supportive of all new housing being built to Passivhaus standards (an internationally established energy performance standard) – or an agreed Scottish equivalent – to create healthy homes for people while also considering whole life carbon costs and environmental impact.
Passivhaus buildings are located in every major European country, Australia, China, Japan, Russia, Canada, the US and South America. While the Assembly recognised specific Passivhaus standards may not suit Scotland’s environment, members strongly emphasised any Scottish equivalent must take these as a minimum level for impact and ensure all materials used for new housing are environmentally friendly and up to meeting strengthened environmental standards.
A requirement for all public sector buildings, vehicles and supply chains to be net zero by 2030 was also suggested, with an interim target of 75% by 2027 and a target for absolute zero by 2035.
Planning was also scrutinised with calls for any development on greenfield sites prohibited until all other development options, such as brownfield and existing building repurposing, have been considered and legitimately rejected. Attention should be directed towards existing infrastructure, amenities and opportunities within populated areas and away from out of town greenfield sites with the aim of valuing and preserving green spaces, agricultural land, wildlife and woodland and providing a new value to existing buildings.
The Assembly’s report comes just months ahead of Glasgow hosting COP26. In the hopes of influencing policymakers, the international project globalassembly.org will be following in a similar vein by inviting 1,000 citizens from around the world to take part in a virtual convention to address the climate crisis and generate ambitious proposals.
Combine this with the fact Scottish Ministers are legally required to respond to the Assembly's recommendations within six months, it's obvious climate change will remain on the political agenda for some time to come.