First Minister’s Environmental Council: May 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 22 May 2024.

Attendees and apologies

First Minister (Co-Chair) [For item 2]

Council members: 

  • Professor Sir Ian Boyd (FMEC Co-Chair)  
  • Professor Ian Bateman OBE, Director of Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute, University of Exeter Business School
  • Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of Ellen MacArthur Foundation (Online) 
  • Revati Campbell, University of Glasgow (Online) 
  • Susan Davies FRSB, Chief Executive, Scottish Seabird Centre (In person) 
  • Erin Fowler, University of Glasgow (Online)
  • Peter Haugan, Director of the Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen (Online) 
  • Ece Özdemiroğlu, founding director of eftec (economics for the environment consultancy) (Online) 
  • Dr Dilys Roe, Chair, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) (Online) 
  • Professor Jo House, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Bristol University (Online) 
  • Toby Park, Principal Advisor, Head of Energy, Environment & Sustainability, Behavioural Insights Unit (In person) 
  • Leslie Mabon, Open University, Associate member (Online) 
  • Professor Yadvinder Malhi, University of Oxford (Online) 


  • Gordon Buchanan MBE, wildlife documentary maker  
  • Professor Sandra Diaz, National University of Cordoba, Argentina
  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, Professor of Soils & Global Change, University of Aberdeen


  • Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser ENRA 
  • Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland
  • David Signorini, Director Environment and Forestry
  • George Burgess, Director Agriculture and Rural Economy 
  • John Kerr, Head of Agriculture
  • Ross Johnston, Head of Natural Capital Policy & Valuation
  • Lorna Ashcroft, Head Sustainable Finance in Nature
  • Tim Ellis, Deputy Director Future Environment Division (for item 3 only) 
  • Catriona Laing, Deputy Director, Domestic Climate Change
  • Ian Freeman, Climate Change Team Leader - Adaptation & Legislation
  • Kay White Senior Policy Officer Climate Change Adaptation
  • Simon Fuller, Deputy Director RESAS 
  • Katriona Carmichael, Deputy Director, Circular Economy
  • Janet McVea, Head of Zero Waste Unit
  • Timothy Chant, Team Leader, Wast Prevention
  • Kirsty Gray, Zero Waste Senior Policy officer
  • Anne Dagg, Team Leader Waste Prevention
  • Sallie Bailey, deputy Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Head of FMEC Secretariat, RESAS  
  • Anna O’Connor, FMEC Secretariat, RESAS 
  • Natalie While, RESAS Business support 

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions  

The Co-chair Professor Boyd opened the meeting and welcomed members to the eighth meeting of the First Minister’s Environmental council. Professor Boyd noted apologies from Gordon Buchanan, Sandra Diaz and Peter Smith.

Professor Boyd welcomed David Signorini, Director Environment and Forestry and Simon Fuller, Deputy Director RESAS, Scottish Government who updated colleagues on the recent Ministerial changes.

First Minister welcome

Professor Boyd welcomed First Minister to the meeting.  First Minister commented that the Council’s work was key to supporting his role and that he welcomed the independent expert advice and international experience that the council can provide to government.  He noted the importance of examining all the policy options and having evidence to ensure that proposed interventions have the most impact and are making best use of public expenditure.  He valued the range of expertise around the table and was particularly interested in the role that behavioural science can play in supporting our transition to a net zero future and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Professor Boyd provided First Minister with a summary of Council’s ways of working and activities to date. He acknowledged the scale of the challenge facing Government and noted that there was a lot of expertise on council and that they were there to help.  He opened the discussion, and the following points were noted:

  • it was important to make sure that climate and nature are linked and that the language of net zero should not be separated from nature
  • there was still some ‘low hanging fruit’ in terms of communication and leadership, which would support climate action and that much could be done by Government to address common misconceptions
  • land use and agriculture policy needed strong leadership from Government to ensure that Scotland can make significant improvements in reducing emissions from agriculture, increase biodiversity and address inequality
  • the approach that Government had taken on the Circular Economy Bill was welcome and was an example where Scotland could demonstrate leadership and innovation on the international stage
  • engagement and transparency are key to ensuring a just transition, it is important that we learn from the pandemic and how we can respond in that risk environment

First Minister noted that he valued the frank, focused advice that the council could provide, and Government was keen to engage and listen.  He noted that he was particularly keen to hear about evidence based solutions, that took us furthest and quickest, that delivered best value for public funds and would have best public buy in and support. 

First Minister commented that he was looking forward to hearing the outcomes from the Council’s discussions on food waste and climate adaptation, as these are both topics that are key to Scotland’s journey to net zero.

Updates on recent activities

International Engagement

Professor Boyd reported that Ministers had welcomed the recent advice from council on opportunities for promoting Scotland’s role as an international leader in addressing the nature and climate crises and were pleased to note that the advice aligned well to Scottish Government’s recently published International Strategy.  He reported that Ministers have suggested that the advice from the council will be useful in shaping our priorities going forward.  Professor Boyd noted thanks to Dilys Roe for leading on that work.

Natural Capital

Professor Boyd welcomed Lorna Ascroft, Head of Sustainable Nature Finance and Ross Johnstone, Head of Natural Capital Policy & Valuation to the meeting and invited them to update colleagues on activities since the completion of the FMEC consideration of SG role in developing natural capital markets, with specific advice relating to the development of Scotland’s Natural Capital Market Framework.  Lorna Ascroft noted that FMEC advice had been used in their development of the Natural Capital Market Framework.

FMEC members noted that there was an appetite for credibility in markets and emphasised the importance of considering the role of Government and the role of regulation.  Members also encouraged extended engagement activities whereby Scottish Government might bring together all Private Investment in Natural Capital (PINC) stakeholders (including investors from outside Scotland who want to invest in it) to sign up to a joint statement, which would help to develop a common vision, provide clarity of approach and deliver community benefits.  A member also noted that it would be advisable for Scottish Government to engage with international (“market lead”) initiatives such as the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)/International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

Agricultural Reform Programme

Dr Kerr, Head of Agriculture updated council on the Agricultural Reform Programme.  He explained that the proposed four tier model will support farmers, crofters and land managers to improve the resilience, efficiency and profitability of the sector, improve for biodiversity outcomes, ecosystem and soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.  The existing framework will continue with changes to the existing system being introduced in 2025 and a phased approach to bringing in the new support framework from 2026. 

Climate Adaptation Deep Dive

Professor Boyd welcomed Catriona Laing, Deputy Director Domestic Climate Change and colleagues to the meeting.  Catriona Laing provided council with a short policy introduction.  She concluded the presentation with two discussion points, which asked council:

  1. How can the Scottish Government work with local authorities, the private sector and communities to ensure all of society is prepared to effectively meet the adaptation challenge?
  2. Given the breadth and depth of the adaptation challenge and our finite resources, how should we prioritise our work and collaborate with decision makers across key sectors to reduce risk?

Professor Boyd thanked colleagues and opened the discussion. The following points were made: 

  • monitoring and evaluating adaptation are challenging as there is little information available on how households and communities are adapting to climate change, there is some information available on flooding, but this is limited
  • behaviour change is a key factor in adapting to climate change and that there were lessons that could be learned from the COVID pandemic.  It was suggested that making key behaviours as easy as possible was essential and normalising behaviours by building on collective community actions would assist
  • the adaptation capability framework identifies the capabilities needed for an organisation’s adaptation journey and describes the tasks to develop these capabilities. It was noted that the public sector is now subject to legislative duties that require action to adapt and report progress. Members noted that the legislation was only updated recently to collate data on progress, which would help support monitoring and evaluation of measures
  • powers to ensure adaptation reporting from the public sector and business would assist.  It was also suggested that adaptation planning should be part of procurement requirements.  Members agreed that setting adaptation targets could be effective in driving change, but this was challenging because of the variety of sectors covered it was suggested we would need a national vision of what adaptation means
  • the most effective solution is not to focus on adaptation measures directly but rather link it to for example green finance, construction, social wellbeing
  • evidence should be gathered that shows how much more challenging meeting other policy goals become if climate change is ignored. It was reported that there is some evidence from CCC (2018/19 land use report, and housing report)
  • maximising nature in cities increases the resilience of businesses and citizens to the effects of climate change. Expanding green spaces reduces urban peak temperature by 1–3 degrees C. It also slows water flows and increases infiltration, leading to reductions in flood intensity by 10–20%. Social benefits are equally compelling, with improvements in health and wellbeing for citizens, through increased access to green spaces, improved air quality, and a more engaging urban environment

Professor Boyd noted that several themes had emerged in discussion for further consideration including the role of behaviour change, resilience and a just transition insuring a fair and just transition for those more affected and vulnerable to climate change.

ACTION:  FMEC agreed to give further consideration and advice to Ministers on some of the key themes arising from the discussion including behaviour change and resilience.

Food Waste

Professor Boyd welcomed officials from the Circular Economy team led by Katriona Carmichael, Deputy Director Circular Economy.  Katriona Carmichael, provided council with a short summary presentation on Food Waste policy objectives and commitments. She concluded the presentation with two discussion points, which asked council:

  1. What can we learn from international evidence about the conditions for success to reduce food waste at the production and manufacturing stages of the supply chain, and for retailers to reduce food waste through marketing and promotions?
  2. What can we learn from behavioural change evidence about consumer awareness on the impact of, and benefits of, reducing food waste and incorporating this awareness into decisions about the purchase and storage of food?

Professor Boyd thanked Katriona Carmichael and then opened the meeting to discussion.  The following points were made:

  • it was noted that when compared to other countries (like the USA) Scotland generates less food waste.  Members asked if there was an agreed optimum baseline level of food waste
  • members noted how other countries approach the issue of food waste. It was reported that in France and Italy they have taken an approach where they are reducing waste by charging upstream in the system.  It was also reported that work was being done to move away from a subsided linear model and on regenerative food practices
  • members noted that proportionately, households generate the most food waste and, therefore, the highest emissions. It was suggested therefore that behaviour change interventions could have a significant impact on reducing food waste however a broad range of measures/interventions may need to be employed to be effective
  • it was suggested that SG could also consider the framing of food waste and suggested that food waste not just be considered an environmental issue but also as a nutritional, health issue
  • members commented on the need to understand the different GHG signatures of different forms of waste e.g. highly processed foods, imported soya-fed meat vs, low emissions locally grown meat vs. high fertiliser input veg vs, low fertiliser input veg and translate that into labelling, which could inform consumer choices
  • it was agreed that it is important that we have evidence on the efficiency of food waste collection schemes and that they are effective at reducing waste.  It was noted that it is important to differentiate between an effective and efficient food waste system – understanding the most effective routes to ensure that waste is going back into the correct system (it was noted that Italy had used this lens to make sure organic by-products are fed back to local production hubs)P

Professor Boyd thanked members for their inputs. Professor Boyd npted that this was a very technical issue but that a steer from council was potentially useful at a strategic level. Members agreed they would consider the key themes discussed and agree if there were areas where they could add additional adive.

Professor Boyd thanked colleagues for their contributions and closed the meeting.

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