Green Recovery is a term used by many governments, including the Scottish Government, to describe the organising principle in effectively responding to the challenges from the Covid-19 crisis – impacting across society and the economy in addition to the immediate health threat.

In June 2020 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee called for views on the principles that should underpin a green recovery, including key actions for change, immediate priorities, potential barriers to implementation and the governance arrangements needed to deliver this.

The call and the following evidence session took the Committee on Climate Change’s advice to the Scottish Government as its starting point.

This blog sets out the key points from CXC policy director Professor Dave Reay’s response to the Committee – submitted as written evidence and as oral evidence.

If we, and the world, fail to realise a green recovery the future impacts of climate change will unravel any apparent short-term economic progress.

In their advice to the Scottish Government the CCC set out a framework for an effective green recovery in Scotland. As guiding principles they are excellent. To provide a comprehensive framework, however, they would need to be applied at a more granular level, taking into account regional and sectoral differences and needs.

Barriers to overcome

A significant barrier to realising a green recovery may well arise from poor balancing of short term demands with longer term risks. Climate change has not gone away, but with a deep recession, job cuts, and widening inequalities and social divides the pressure for short term responses that ignore longer term sustainability and risks is magnified. This balancing is a fiendishly difficult call to make. Hence use of the best available evidence, learning from the mistakes of 2008, and overt alignment of responses and policies with the principles of a green recovery (incl. ensuring a ‘just recovery’), our climate change commitments and the need to give lasting resilience to the economy, livelihoods and wellbeing is required.

Finance will inevitably be a major barrier to delivering any sort of recovery, green or otherwise. As had been shown already, a truly green recovery actually gives the best return on investment (e.g. investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency in buildings and decarbonisation of heat). So, a significant barrier will be the level of recognition of this by government and the private sector - if we repeat the mistakes of 2008 and simply invest with a view to a return to business as usual we will waste money and any ‘recovery’ will not be a sustainable one.

Another key barrier related to the above is the workforce capacity, or lack thereof, to deliver the above. The transition to net zero already required major changes in sectors such as energy, transport, built environment and agriculture. These changes are now much more pressing, with many thousands of jobs and livelihoods a risk, and young people in particular facing many years of reduced opportunity and employment. Aligning skills, training and job creation with a green recovery is therefore vital in terms of buffering the impacts of Covid AND keeping Scotland on track to deliver on its climate change targets. With COP 26 next year we have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how this alignment can be achieved

Policies, actions and priorities

The agriculture and land use sectors have a leading role in helping to deliver a sustainable net zero Scotland, through, for instance, a large increase in woodland creation, peatland restoration, and on-farm emissions reductions[1].

‘Net zero’ is simply impossible without both agriculture and land use seeing a rapid and sustained change in support and activities[2].

The continued commitment to the Agricultural Transformational Fund in the Programme for Government is welcome, but it is still confined  to capital spend, and so not addressing the widening skills and training gap in the sector that must be addressed head on. This includes enhancing the capacity of advisory services to give the support required under any new support regime, refocussed training priorities and increased opportunities/sector attractiveness for new entrants, and overt integration of upskilling and training for existing land users into any new support regime.

The Programme For Government also has positive commitments on tree-planting targets and how to increase those. It’s taking a systems view from nurseries and tree-planting to the timber industry. But there is a lack of detail on e.g. post-CAP pilots and how they might align with net zero and a green recovery.

Brexit means action in the land use and agriculture sectors was already very urgent, and Covid has piled on a lot of additional pressure (e.g. through disrupted food supply chains, workforce availability, and unpredictable demand). For agriculture the immediate priority is to move quickly to confirm the post-CAP regime (see below), complete required pilots, and give assurance to farmers and land users on timelines, structures and support elements (e.g. levels of basic payment, tapering, compliance needs [esp. climate change action], and how different [or not] the future support scheme will be to that in England [e.g. ELMs]). We should have a contingency plan in place for a ‘no deal’ Brexit as part of this, ensuring that any short-term shocks are minimised and that they do not derail the wider transition to a new support regime for agriculture in Scotland.

Three wishes for a Green Recovery across land use and agriculture

We really have no time to lose so here are my three wishes for policy:

  1. Integrate the policies: We should have a comprehensive ‘Land Use Bill’, overcoming the current division of agriculture and land use into separate sectors, reflecting reality, and capitalising on synergies and working across the scale and speed needed in the transition process to a post-CAP regime for agriculture, and how this integrates with all land use in Scotland.

  2. In this approach we need to also integrate with other key developments, such as the updated Land Use Strategy, National Planning Framework 4 and the Forestry Strategy, lay down time lines for regional pilots, data collection and reporting, and the staged implementation of new support, governance and reporting systems in all regions of Scotland.

  3. Third is capacity building and change of mindset. Do the land managers have the mindset to implement changes and ensure return on investment for the public? What kind of advice is given around net zero and green recovery? These needs are of course shaped by what the post-CAP future of agriculture and land use in Scotland actually turn out to be. However, we already know enough of what is required to map gaps in provision, identify bottlenecks in terms of capacity, and so take action.

[1] ClimateXChange has delivered a number of reports assessing the options in agriculture, forestry and land use policy, see https://www.climatexchange.org.uk/policy/challenges/land-use/

[2] Read more about ‘net zero and how Scotland’s emissions are reducing towards it in this blog and the principles of net zero here