Developing an environment strategy for Scotland: analysis of responses to online discussion

Independent analysis of responses to our June to August 2018 online discussion that sought views to help inform the development of an Environment Strategy for Scotland.

Executive Summary

i. In June 2018, The Scottish Government launched an eight-week national online discussion inviting feedback on a discussion paper on ‘Developing an Environment Strategy for Scotland’[1].

ii. Discussion questions invited feedback on:

  • A draft vision (describing the ambition that Scotland’s environment policies are working collectively to achieve)
  • A set of draft supporting outcomes (which must be delivered in order to achieve the vision)
  • A series of draft Knowledge Accounts (summarising key evidence on a range of environmental themes, which will help to identify priorities for action).

iii. The Lines Between, an Edinburgh-based social research agency, was commissioned to independently, accurately and comprehensively undertake and report on the analysis of online discussion responses, to help inform the development of the strategy.

iv. A total of 96 responses were received from 21 individuals and 75 organisations[2].  Most of the organisations that took part in the discussion have an environmental focus or responsibility for the management of natural assets within their remit.

Responses to the draft vision statement

v. A strong theme across responses was of support for the proposed vision. This ranged from full to partial endorsements of the vision statement and the accompanying explanatory sentence.  Just under a quarter of respondents made qualifying comments with their positive feedback. These typically focused on the challenge of achieving the vision.

vi. A small number of respondents (all individuals, as opposed to organisations) said they did not support the draft vision statement.  Themes in their responses included a suggestion that the vision was not realistic or achievable.

vii. Many participants highlighted the aspirational nature of the vision statement, expressing a variety of perspectives about the value of an ambitious approach.  Some felt the vision was too vague, suggesting this diminished its power as a driver for change. The strategic value of the vision statement and its connection to other strategies was also commented on frequently.

viii. While the dominant theme was of overall support for the vision, in their detailed comments some respondents called for changes to specific aspects of the vision wording and/or focus.  The most common theme of discussion about the draft vision related to the term ‘prosper’. Respondents typically highlighted a concern that the word ‘prosper’ has financial or economic connotations which they suggested are at odds with the drive for change

ix. A small number of participants endorsed the term ‘prosper’, describing a sense that it conveys a holistic message about growth and sustainability that goes beyond financial considerations.

x. Much of the discussion about the explanatory sentence focused on participants’ responses to key messages, issues that could be given greater prominence to, or additional themes to include.

xi. Some felt that the vision was too short and focused.  A common theme in comments on the vision’s accompanying statement centred on the phrase ‘earth’s sustainable limits’. Several participants suggested that use of resources is currently beyond sustainable limits and urged that this be acknowledged.

xii. A few respondents suggested the draft vision could be made more powerful by highlighting the benefits of the environment strategy for Scotland’s people as well as the environment and wildlife, and incorporating a focus on equality and inclusivity within the vision and accompanying statement.

xiii. Some participants advocated for the inclusion of references to landscape within the draft vision statement and accompanying explanatory sentence.  Participants frequently described challenges they believe may hinder Scotland’s ability to achieve its vision. These included concerns that an ambition to be ‘prosperous’ acknowledges an economic focus that is not compatible with a sustainable environmental approach, and fears that Brexit may result in fewer opportunities to work on important environmental projects that have hitherto been funded by, or achieved through, Scotland’s membership of the European Union.

xiv. There were several observations that environmental issues are interconnected and that the actions of other countries will also have a bearing on whether or not the vision is achieved.  Some suggested achieving the vision will require drastic change above and beyond the steps mentioned in the strategy: both by people in the way that they consume goods and utilise resources, and by the Scottish Government in relation both to the resources it devotes to environmental issues and in its role as a legislator to monitor and enforce change.

xv. In their comments on the vision statement some participants highlighted other issues for the Scottish Government to consider while finalising the vision and overall strategy. These included calls to:

  • Explain how the achievement of vision and outcomes will be resourced.
  • Assign responsibilities for delivering the vision and outcomes.
  • Draft a new Environment Bill for Scotland.

Responses to the six draft outcomes

xvi. Many participants made general comments that apply across the six draft outcomes. Themes in these responses included:

  • Expressions of broad support for the outcomes proposed.
  • Requests for greater specificity in the language used to describe outcomes, for example ‘What does ‘excellent’ and ‘sustainable’ in outcomes 4 and 6 mean?’ [Scottish Borders Council]
  • Calls for greater detail and/or information about outcome measurements, specifically:
    • The actions and resources that will underpin how outcomes are achieved.
    • Clear timescales to measure progress towards the achievement of outcomes, including milestones, targets and review points.
    • A framework to establish governance and accountability.
    • Calls for an economic impact assessment.
  • Inclusion of other outcomes and/or greater reference to the following issues within existing outcomes, namely:
    • Landscape.
    • Inequalities.

xvii. A few participants commented more widely on the draft outcomes. Their observations included:

  • A perception that people might take the numbering to signify priorities assigned to each outcome.
  • A suggestion that it would be helpful to clarify the interrelationship between outcomes by differentiating between those that are ‘state outcomes’ (describing the desired state of the biosphere) and those which are ‘activity outcomes’ (describing how people interact with the biosphere).
  • Requests for clarity about the links between outcomes, the overall vision and other national strategies and pieces of legislation. These included calls for the delivery of a National Ecological Network, and consideration of the connection between this strategy and Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029.
  • A few respondents identified links between outcome 3 (biodiversity), outcome 4 (quality of Scotland’s air, freshwater, seas and soils) and outcome 6 (our global footprint).

Outcome 1: We are a climate leader and play our full role in limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C

xviii. This outcome ranked third in terms of the number of comments received.  Almost all respondents welcomed the intention to limit global warming. Some called for the Scottish Government to be more ambitious; many requested greater clarity about aspects of this outcome. Several highlighted other relevant issues that they would like to see referenced in the outcome. A few participants provided examples of ongoing efforts to limit increases in global temperatures; some shared their fears about what might happen if Scotland does not achieve this goal.

Outcome 2: We are a zero waste, resource efficient nation

xix. This outcome ranked second in terms of the number of comments from respondents.  Most discussion participants welcomed the ambition to become a zero waste nation. Some supported the outcome without qualification, others asked for greater clarity about aspects of this outcome. Some advocated for expansion of the outcome to encompass other goals linked to resource efficiency.  A few organisations shared examples of their efforts to increase resource efficiency. Some reflected on how to achieve the outcome, highlighting current inefficiencies in Scotland to address.

Outcome 3: Our biodiversity is protected and enhanced, supporting healthy ecosystems

xx. The biodiversity outcome drew the largest number of comments from respondents. Most discussion participants approved of the stated ambition to protect and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity and support healthy ecosystems. Themes of support typically focused on references to protection and enhancement being welcomed. Other themes across responses included calls for the Scottish Government to be more ambitious, and requests for greater clarity about aspects of this outcome. Some highlighted changes that they believe would need to be introduced to achieve this outcome, including the establishment of a National Ecological Network.  A few highlighted specific challenges associated with achieving this outcome, raising issues such as interaction between protected species and potential threats including poor biosecurity.

Outcome 4: Our air, freshwater, seas and soils are of excellent quality

xxi. This outcome received the fewest number of comments.  Most respondents welcomed the ambition for excellent quality in Scotland’s air, freshwater, seas and soils; a few highlighted the value of a combined approach to this outcome.  Several respondents called for greater definition of what is meant by ‘quality’.  Across responses the following additions were suggested:

  • The inclusion of land and trees.
  • Integration with agricultural policies.
  • Mention of water scarcity.
  • Consideration of economic benefits that will arise if this outcome is achieved.
  • Staying attuned to the unintended consequences of evolving social behaviour that might affect the quality of Scotland’s environment.
  • A commitment to keeping Scotland free from pollution.

xxii. One participant advocated for the quality of the marine environment be considered in its own right: ‘We suggest that the marine environment is of such significance to Scotland that it should be the focus of its own outcome’ [National Trust for Scotland].

Outcome 5: Everyone can access, enjoy and connect with nature

xxiii. This outcome ranked joint fourth in terms of the number of comments received.  This outcome was welcomed by all discussion participants. Within the strongly positive feedback, a common theme in responses related to the notion of access. Many access barriers were identified, such as lack of transport, knowledge about the outdoors and familiarity with spending time in nature. Often these comments included reference to social and economic inequalities. Some participants highlighted the challenges associated with this outcome; a few identified potential conflicts with other objectives. These include:

  • The potential negative impact of increased presence of people on wildlife and livestock.
  • That the concepts of ‘enjoy’ and ‘connect with’, referenced in the outcome, are individual preferences beyond the Scottish Government’s control.
  • Reduced resources for local authorities who maintain parks and open spaces.
  • Transport poverty in rural and urban areas.
  • Access to nature competing with demands to use land for other purposes, such as housing.
  • Negative impact of increased visitors to areas that do not currently have the capacity or infrastructure to accommodate them.

Outcome 6: The global footprint of our consumption and production is sustainable

xxiv. This outcome ranked joint fourth in terms of the number of comments received.  There were strong expressions of support for this outcome. The global scope of this outcome was frequently praised and many highlighted the value of a ‘whole of government’ approach. Some referenced outcome 6 as crucially connected to the overarching vision set out for Scotland.

xxv. Some asked for more detail about how this outcome would be achieved and highlighted a lack of clarity about Scotland’s global footprint at present.

Responses to the eight draft Knowledge Accounts

xxvi. Participants generally welcomed the Knowledge Accounts, with several respondents highlighting the value of the documents as a central reference point. Some potential improvements were also suggested, including:

  • Scope to expand the number of Knowledge Accounts to provide a specific focus on issues of interest to the respondent.
  • Increased breadth and depth of Knowledge Accounts.
  • Additional examples of evidence the respondent wished to see included.
  • Clarifying how the priorities identified in the Knowledge Accounts relate to the six draft outcomes.
  • Calls for more detail about aspects identified as past and future drivers.

xxvii. There were suggestions that aspects of the Knowledge Accounts inextricably link and/or overlap. For example, there were calls for the following categories to be merged, or for the differences between these Knowledge Accounts made more explicit.

  • Value the Environment / Natural Capital / Access to Nature
  • Natural Capital / Ecosystems and Wildlife / Green space

xxviii. Several respondents took the opportunity to describe their organisation’s contribution to the changes identified, or shared thoughts on the ways to achieve key changes.

Air Quality

xxix. Overall the comments were supportive of the aim of achieving ‘the best air quality in Europe’ though some respondents called for more specific detail and/or evidence about how to assess when this was achieved and about the current position in relation to targets. Participants shared additional examples that could be included under evidence and current initiatives. They also suggested a broadening of the sections on past and future drivers to encompass other issues and opportunities.

Business Resource Efficiency

xxx. Respondents were supportive of the aim of achieving a transition to a circular economy and considered the issues the Knowledge Account raises to be relevant. However, many would like to see a shift in emphasis towards reusing or repurposing in preference to recycling, and more sustainable approaches to packaging and use of chemicals so that recycling and remanufacturing is more feasible.  A few respondents commented on past drivers that they believe should be included or better emphasised, and almost all of those commenting on this Knowledge Account had views on future drivers that they believe should be more prominently mentioned.

Ecosystems and Wildlife 

xxxi. Several respondents noted the interconnection between this Knowledge Account and the Natural Capital Knowledge Account. Some would like this Knowledge Account to have a broader and more inclusive ‘whole ecosystem’ approach, for example: more emphasis on climate change, marine environments, a recognition of the global and international links and commitments, more consideration of urban environments, caution not to focus on single species or habitat/site management, recognition of the services that ecosystems can provide (e.g. in mitigating climate change and CO2 emissions) and the importance of land use balance/diversity.

Household Resource Efficiency

xxxii. Whilst several respondents welcomed the commitments in this Knowledge Account, many felt that it was narrowly focused on recycling as opposed to reducing consumption/use; and on householders’ rather than producers’ responsibilities. Most comments on the themes covered by this Knowledge Account related to a desire for a broader focus that would include biodegradability, more clearly articulated reference to circular economy objectives, reducing consumption, design for longevity and public attitudes to resource use.  Some respondents mentioned additional household resources that they believe this Knowledge Account should include: for instance, energy and sewage.

Natural Capital

xxxiii. Most respondents were supportive of the recognition that the natural environment is important to Scotland’s prosperity. There were some comments on overlap or interconnections between this Knowledge Account and the Ecosystems and Wildlife and Value the Environment Knowledge Accounts, with ‘duplication’ of information on trends and drivers and content. Several respondents would like to see a more comprehensive Knowledge Account that would include: blue carbon/marine resources, protection of biodiversity/ecosystems in the wider environment, spanning domestic and urban landscapes, peatland, marine life, freshwater and historic environments.

Quality Green Space

xxxiv. Respondents were generally supportive of the recognition of the human health and wellbeing benefits of quality green spaces in this Knowledge Account. A few emphasised the need to balance the needs of people with biodiversity and conservation considerations.

Value the Environment

xxxv. The general nature of the feedback was positive, however some respondents identified potential changes that may add strength and depth to the Knowledge Account. Suggestions included revisions to the Knowledge Account’s title, scope and definition. A few respondents suggested the title ‘Value the Environment’ might cause confusion, with the word ‘value’ having a monetary connotation.  A small number of respondents suggested that the introduction could be enhanced by identification of different stakeholders.  In comments about the values, attitude and behaviour of specific groups, some highlighted equalities issues.  Several highlighted interconnections between this Knowledge Account and the Natural Capital Knowledge Account.

Access to Nature

xxxvi. Whilst welcoming acknowledgement of the importance of this topic and stating support for the aims articulated, several respondents noted interconnections or overlap with other Knowledge Accounts, particularly the Quality Green Space Knowledge Account.  For some environmental bodies and public sector organisations, the scope of ‘nature’ in this Knowledge Account could be broader: they suggested it could expand beyond recreation purposes to encompass education, biodiversity, active travel and wildlife watching. They also urged for specific mention of different types of environments, including forests and woodlands.



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