Peatland cash cow needs “complete reassessment”

​Community landowners have hit out at large amounts of public money being spent on “supporting powerful private investors and absentee developers to exploit Scotland’s natural resources for private profit”.
Dr Josh Doble, Community Land ScotlandDr Josh Doble, Community Land Scotland
Dr Josh Doble, Community Land Scotland

​A radical new policy paper from Community Land Scotland adds to the growing chorus of concerns that the Scottish Government’s support for “peatland restoration” and other environmental schemes are being turned into money-making schemes for investors and landlords.

The paper claims that “national policy on developing Natural Resource markets is largely driven by unrealistic figures about the amount of finance required to help the burgeoning industry”.

Community Land Scotland is calling for a complete reassessment of how Scotland’s nature targets are met and for “fresh strategies to achieve nature restoration and carbon sequestration”.

These include substantially reducing deer numbers, tighter regulation of greenhouse-gas emitting land, an enhanced role for local authorities in identifying land for nature restoration and “a review of the possible benefits of phasing out intensive grouse shooting”.

Community Land Scotland believes that current policy, focused on securing as much private investment as possible, stands to benefit big investors and that communities will continue to lose out on the basis of policies which use public money to underwrite private profit.

‘Public money should not be spent to support underdeveloped and speculative carbon markets’, Dr Josh Doble, Community Land Scotland’s policy manager. “These markets are still relatively new and there are many unknowns as to how they will work.

“The current Natural Capital market is underpinned by carbon offsetting schemes where big companies buy carbon credits from peat-restoration or tree-planting schemes to compensate for their carbon emissions.

“We are concerned that a considerable amount of effort is being put into ‘de-risking’ these markets by underwriting private investment with public money – this could have significant implications for public spending and undermine existing grant mechanisms. Public money should not be spent to support underdeveloped and speculative carbon markets”.

Community Land Scotland believes that the level of public financial support for private investment in natural capital markets is based on unrealistic numbers. Scottish Government planning reflects assessments in a 2021 report from the Green Finance Institute which identified a ‘gap’ of about £20 billion in what was needed to develop natural capital in line with Net Zero targets, and a more recent figure which states an ambition of securing £12.5 billion in private investment.

The ”Green Finance Initiative” is run from the City of London by private investment interests.

Community Land Scotland believes the GFI figure is discredited, largely as it overstates the cost of unnecessary land acquisitions. The organisation points to a Future Economy Scotland report which calculated the funding gap could be as small as £118 million per year, although this figure is also an estimate.