First Minister's Environmental Council minutes: June 2022

Minutes from the second meeting of the First Minister's Environmental Council on 13 June 2022.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (Agenda items 1 and 2)

  • Mairi McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform (Agenda items 1 and 2)

  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Agenda items 1-4)

  • Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Agenda items 1-4)

  • First Minister of Scotland, Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon (Agenda items 1 and 2)

Council members

  • Professor Ian Bateman OBE, Director of Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute, University of Exeter Business School

  • Professor Sir Ian Boyd, School of Biolody, University of St Andrews (FMEC Co-Chair)

  • Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of Ellen MacArthur Foundation

  • Gordon Buchanan MBE, wildlife documentary maker

  • Revati Campbell, University of Glasgow

  • Susan Davies FRSB, Chief Executive, Scottish Seabird Centre

  • Professor Sandra Diaz, National University of Cordoba, Argentina

  • Erin Fowler, Historic Environment Scotland

  • Professor Yadvinder Malhi CBE, FRS, University of Oxford

  • Ece Özdemiroğlu, founding Director of Eftec

  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, Professor of Soils and Global Change, University of Aberdeen


  • Professor Gretchen Daily - Bing Professor of Environmental Science, Stanford University, USA Faculty Director – The Natural Capital Project

  • Dame Julia Slingo FRS, Chief Scientist of the UK Met Office (2009 -2016)

  • Dr Dilys Roe, Chair, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)


  • Dr Sallie Bailey, Deputy CSA Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA), Scottish Government

  • Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland, Scottish Government

  • Simon Fuller, Deputy Director, Rural and Environmental Analysis, Scottish Government

  • Rebecca Hackett, Director General Net Zero Head of Office and Strategic Support, Scottish Government

  • Mia Kett, FMEC Secretariat, Scottish Government

  • Anna O’Connor, FMEC Secretariat, Scottish Government

  • Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA)

Policy teams

  • Biodiversity Unit: Cate Turton, Deputy Director, Natural Resources; Lisa McCann, Head of Unit

  • Circular Economy Unit: Gareth Heavisides, Circular Economy Team Leader; Ginny Gardner, Head of Unit

  • Future Standards and Relations Hub: Susan Hamilton, Head of Unit; Luke Boddice, Head of Engagement on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Items and actions

Welcome (1)

The Co-Chair, Professor Boyd, opened the meeting and welcomed members. The Chair welcomed Mr Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy and Transport, he also welcomed Ms Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Ms Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity and Ms McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform.

Mr Matheson thanked members and welcomed the opportunity the group provided to bring expertise, knowledge and challenge to government. Ministers hoped Council members could bring new ideas and international experience to help government understand the opportunities but also risks and trade-offs required to meet the vision for 2045.

Professor Boyd set out the Council’s proposed ways of working. He noted that the Council would provide input on live policy topics such as draft strategies and legislation. The Council would draw on their respective expertise to consider the longer term implications, surface unforeseen consequences, pose alternative approaches and point to good practice policy solutions from elsewhere. He explained that the Council would also engage in longer term projects, including scenarios work and horizon scanning approaches. Finally Council members may provide direct advise to Minister’s and policy colleagues on a specific area.

Professor Boyd welcomed the First Minister. First Minister noted her interest in hearing more about the Council’s plans for their future work programme. 

Biodiversity (2)

The First Minister emphasied that the twin crises of climate change and nature loss are intertwined and must be tackled together. The First Minister highlighted that the Scottish Government (SG) has committed to publishing a new Scottish biodiversity strategy in autumn 2022, which will set out the government’s ambition to:

  • reverse biodiversity loss by 2030

  • make significant progress to restoring and regenerating biodiversity by 2045

Professor Boyd welcomed Cate Turton, Deputy Director, Natural Resources and Lisa McCann from the Biodiversity Policy team to the meeting. Ms Turton gave a short presentation providing an overview of biodiversity policy development.

The presentation posed two questions to Council:

  • what are the most important opportunities and trade-offs to be aware of in reaching the biodiversity strategy’s vision, and how can these be balanced to increase public support and awareness?

  • what can we learn from international experiences in terms of delivering an ambitious agenda and the development of nature targets which incentivise and drive change? What is the scope for building international partnerships, in particular where we have international allies?

FMEC members responded positively to the ambition set out in the strategy, the visuals and the evidence base used to inform it. Members remarked that Scotland looked to be moving in a different direction to England and has the potential to be an early mover on the biodiversity agenda. In particular members were impressed to see biodiversity considerations being incorporated into working landscapes.

The following points were made by Council members for consideration:

  • clarity of purpose and transformational change are essential to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. There is a need for strong political leadership and this was an opportunity for Scotland to demonstrate strong leadership and vision. Members noted the importance of acknowledging the uncertainty as to which actions will be most effective, that biodiversity is a learning process and that an iterative approach would be required

  • government should consider Scotland’s international biodiversity footprint and set out an ambition to reduce it

  • further public and private investment would be required. Government must ensure value for money in funds already invested and suggestions on how and where to target public money were proposed – including gap filling, leveraging funding and incentivising of long-term action; underwriting private finance risks

  • trade-offs are complex between nature and economy, between different good things (including what to do now and later) and between different risk management approaches and need to be clearly surfaced  

  • changes in agricultural support provide an opportunity to advance biodiversity priorities, and recognise that transformative land use change is required

  • drivers of biodiversity loss are known globally but need spatial analysis to map the drivers and trade-offs across varied landscapes in Scotland. It will not be possible to conserve and protect everything so prioritisation needs to occur

  • the potential benefits of land sparing rather than sharing, including being better value and providing increased biodiversity outcomes

  • the strategy’s visuals on landscape transitions should be used to engage with multiple stakeholder groups, including businesses, land owners and the public

  • need to strengthen the links between the strategy and upstream drivers of biodiversity loss, especially consumption and production – specifically linking biodiversity strategy with the government’s circular economy work

  • opportunity to go further in putting people at the centre of the work, specifically in improving opportunities to access nature in urban spaces

First Minister thanked members and remarked on the high quality of the discussion. She commented that we are at a critical juncture, we know how important the problem is and we have some key levers but we need a better understanding of the drivers of deterioration. 

Circular economy (3)

Professor Boyd welcomed Ginny Gardner and Gareth Heavisides from the circular economy team. Ministers commented that this was a challenging area and that they would welcome the international experience of Council members to help understand examples of where it was working well elsewhere. Professor Boyd agreed and commented that there was no simple solutions as, in his view, much of the low hanging fruit had already been taken.

Ms Gardner gave a short presentation to council providing an overview of circular economy policy and live areas of current circular economy policy development.

Policy colleagues posed three questions to Council:

  • in your experience, what are the best mechanisms to reduce consumption of raw materials and how do they fit with the policy priorities that we have identified?

  • it is clear that we need to embed circular economy principles across all sectors, not just the waste sector. What measures could we take to do this successfully across sectors and encourage a change to new business models?

  • many of our existing 2025 targets are weight-based, and do not specifically measure carbon reduction or other environmental impacts. What advice can you provide on the most appropriate ways of structuring future targets?

Professor Boyd chaired a discussion on this topic and the following comments were raised by the council for consideration:

Reducing consumption

  • members suggested an increase in community and stakeholder engagement to understand how best to incentivise household recycling – noting the lack of standardised recycling across local authorities and the social barriers to recycling

  • members highlighted chemical recycling as a key example to support a fundamental shift: i.e. chemicals in products holding back recycling potential. Members suggested further investigation on targeting the use of critical elements such as Lithium

  • support was provided on embedding circular economy practices into construction and product design. Key challenge is addressing the generation of waste, not just managing existing waste

  • need to consider low carbon as well as recycled materials and understanding the evidence behind different choices is important here

Embedding circular economy across sectors

  • members commented that a fundamental shift in economic framework was needed so circular economy isn’t just an add-on

  • members highlighted the importance of emphasising the opportunities circular economy initiatives present in terms of job and enterprise creation

  • members suggested a change of language to Resilient Net Zero. Members explained this means talking about mitigation and adaptation together and automatically, it also then covers global supply chains and the climate change risks alongside them

  • members suggested government could learn from strong international examples of circular economy action such as Sweden’s 50% reduction on VAT for repair

Future targets

  • members provided a steer away from using weight-based targets, and instead suggested that government consider targets focused on the environmental footprint of goods - not simply by weight

  • members suggested that government make a clearer link and alignment between future targets on circular economy/material flow, and biodiversity impact

  • members noted that mechanisms to promote a circular economy must ensure a just transition and be available to all parts of society

Constitutional futures – environment (4)

Professor Boyd welcomed Susan Hamilton and Luke Boddice from the Future Environment team who gave a short presentation on current areas of constitutional work relating to environmental policy. Two questions were posed to members:

  • independence would enable Scotland to have control of a full suite of legislative powers and policy levers, whilst it continues to aim to align with EU policy

Based on your international experience, what examples are there of good practice on environmental policy within, and outside of, the EU, which Scotland should be considering?

  • an independent Scotland would have new fiscal powers to drive change

What new financial levers could be pulled, and how, in order to incentivise behavioural change and help achieve Scotland’s environmental objectives?

The Council had a wide ranging discussion and the following comments were made:

  • SG should look to countries in Europe for examples of good practice on environmental policy, in particular Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Finland and France

  • Scotland has long-standing excellence in science, technology and innovation in environmental and agricultural research and gave advice to integrate a strong component to the prospectus. Members suggested that Scotland seek to align with EU funding mechanisms such as Horizon Europe

  • there was potential for Scotland to participate internationally and take a leadership role on issues as an independent actor to showcase best practices and raise awareness and the level of global ambition on environment issues

  • SG should examine opportunities for Scotland in international environment partnerships and treaties where it can participate in exchange of best practices, including with the global south, for example United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) 

  • members suggested being clear about the role of government and what responsibilities SG will take

Future scenario project – workshop session (5)

Professor Boyd explained that the second part of the meeting would be used to develop the Council’s medium to long term work areas by initiating a scenario development project. Professor Boyd introduced Alister Wilson of Waverly Consultants to lead the session. 

Mr Wilson explained that Waverley would work with the First Minister’s Environmental Council over the course of this year to develop a set of scenarios that explore alternative routes to achieving a resilient net zero Scotland with thriving biodiversity. 

Mr Wilson then hosted a session to begin the scenario development process with Council members.

Close of meeting (6)

Professor Boyd thanked colleagues for attending and for all their contributions. 

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