First Minister’s Environmental Council minutes: November 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 7th of November 2023.

Attendees and apologies

Ministers [12:15-13:30] 

  • First Minister (Co-Chair) 
  • Mairi McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition 
  • Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity
  • Gillian Martin, Minister for Energy and Environment 

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 (Online) 
  • Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of Ellen MacArthur Foundation (in person) 
  • Revati Campbell, University of Glasgow (Online) 
  • Susan Davies FRSB, Chief Executive, Scottish Seabird Centre (Online) 
  • Professor Sandra Diaz, National University of Cordoba, Argentina (Online) 
  • 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) (In person) 
  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, Professor of Soils & Global Change, University of Aberdeen (in Person) 
  • Professor Jo House, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Bristol University (In person) 
  • Toby Park,  Principal Advisor, Head of Energy, Environment & Sustainability, Behavioural Insights Unit (In person) 
  • Leslie Mabon, Open University, Associate member (In person)  


  • Gordon Buchanan MBE, wildlife documentary maker  
  • Professor Yadvinder Malhi, University of Oxford  
  • Professor Julia Slingo,  


  • Professor David Reay, Co-Chair of the Just Transition Commission (in person item 4 Only) 
  • Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser ENRA 
  • Kevin Quinlan, Director Environment and Forestry (online for item 1-3 only) 
  • George Burgess, Director Agriculture and Rural Economy (online item 4 only) 
  • Lewis Hurley, Head of Marine Planning (online for item 2 only) 
  • Ross Johnston, Head of Natural Capital Policy & Valuation (in person for item 3 only) 
  • Lorna Ashcroft, Head Sustainable Finance in Nature (for item 3 only) 
  • Time Ellis, Deputy Director Future Environment Division (for item 3 only) 
  • Catriona Laing, Deputy Director, Domestic Climate Change – Just Transition Presentation (in person for item 4 only) 
  • Lauren Begbie, Just Transition Commission Secretariat (in person for item 4 only) 
  • Kate Higgins, Special Adviser (item 4 only) 
  • Colin McAlister, Special Adviser (in person item 4 only) 
  • Sophie Tolley, FM Policy Unit (in person item 4 only) 
  • Simon Fuller, Deputy Director RESAS 
  • 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

1. Welcome and Introductions  

The co-chair Professor Boyd opened the meeting and welcomed members to the seventh meeting of the First Minister’s Environmental council. Professor Boyd noted apologies from Gordon Buchanan, Yadvinder Malhi and Julia Slingo.  

Professor Boyd welcomed the new members to council, Professor Jo House, Dr Leslie Mabon and Toby Park and invited members to introduce themselves to council.  

Professor Boyd noted that council members had met on the 6 November for a member's discussion.  Professor Dilys Roe introduced a discussion focussing on Scotland’s role internationally, looking at routes to international engagement and where Scotland has a position on the international stage.  Professor Boyd suggested developing the discussion to provide advice to Ministers on opportunities for promoting Scotland’s role as a leader in the addressing the nature and climate crises on the international stage.  

2. Blue Economy: FMEC Advice Marine Planning Framework: Update and Impact led by Susan Davies, CEO Scottish Seabird Centre  

Professor Boyd welcomed Lewis Hurley, Head of Marine Planning in Scottish Government to the meeting and invited Ms Davies to summarise the key points of FMEC ‘s recent discussions on Marine Planning.  Ms Davies noted that she had met with Ms McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition on 19 September to discuss the council’s work.    

Mr Hurley thanked the council for the time spent considering marine planning. Mr Hurley reported that policy colleagues were making progress with developing the new National Marine Plan; recent activities included developing the proposed structure and approach that the plan will take in setting out planning policies and they are considering how they can utilise the councils guidance.  Mr Hurley reported that since the last meeting of council in June 2023, a small set of high-level, strategic objectives had been developed, which will be shared with external stakeholders in due course.  These will articulate the national objectives for marine planning in the context of Scottish Government’s wider strategic ambitions.    

Professor Boyd thanked Ms Davis, Mr Hurley and the working group and invited comments from council members:   

  • members discussed the Norwegian example for marine planning and noted there were positive examples of how to deal with conflict between sectors
  • members pointed to positive examples of a participatory approach to marine planning in Chile

3. Natural Capital Sub-Group Update  

Professor Boyd invited Ece Özdemiroğlu to update council on the activities of natural capital sub group.  Dr Özdemiroğlu reported that members of the subgroup were considering the Scottish Government’s role in developing natural capital markets, the development of Scotland’s Natural Capital Market Framework and delivering the distinctive Scottish vision for a values-led high integrity market for responsible investment in natural capital.  

Dr Özdemiroğlu reported that she had met with Ms Martin, Minister for Energy and Environment on 6 September to brief her on the work.    

Professor Boyd opened the discussion and invited council engagement and feedback.  

Members discussed the role of government in the development of natural capital markets, so that they are not only profitable but also deliver high-integrity environmental outcomes and provide benefits for Scotland’s communities and economy.    

Council had a wide ranging discussion and the following points were noted:  

  • it was important to focus on where Government can play a distinctive role, such as establishing investment mechanisms and accountancy processes that will ensure that markets are well-regulated and high integrity.   
  • natural capital markets is a wide term and covers many areas, not just carbon or biodiversity offsets. council agreed that the terminology used needs to be clearly set and communicated.  It is important to define what high integrity means for Scotland
  • the need to emphasise the “why” more clearly i.e. why there must be private investment in natural capital – not just plugging the gap but rather maintaining the natural assets on which the economy depends
  • the cost of carbon credits is increasing, and an industry of certifiers is developing - we should therefore be clear who is setting the boundary conditions and who is operating in this space
  • investment in natural capital should provide benefits for Scotland’s local communities.  Communities also need to have trusted unbiased sources of information available to them
  • not all investment in nature will generate a financial return and therefore we must be clear that some returns may be for communities or to support nature. Government needs to attract, or provide directly, investment that looks after all natural assets, avoiding the risk of mitigation of carbon at the expense of nature
  • we need robust metrics to measure the impact of investment. Colleagues noted that Scotland’s Natural Capital Asset Index exists.  Members suggested then that the challenge is how do we help get its profile raised and get it embedded across the policy streams/thinking and the financial markets 
  • there are opportunities in Scotland “stack” co-benefits of biodiversity and carbon from single investments rather than competing against each other  

Dr Özdemiroğlu thanked colleagues for their comments.  She noted that the sub-group would look to finalise their work by the end of 2023.    

4.  Just Transition 

First Minister and Ministerial colleagues arrive.    

Professor Boyd welcomed First Minister and ministerial colleagues to the meeting.  He noted that this was the 7th meeting of the council and the first meeting with our new First Minister and provided an overview of the council’s work to date.    

First Minister emphasised that the council’s expertise plays a key role in informing how we tackle the climate emergency and ecological decline.  

First Minister emphasised the scale and pace of the transition that is required to achieve our ambitions of a net zero Scotland but noted that we must also take into consideration the economic and social impacts. He welcomed the council’s views and frank advice on how we can maximise the opportunities a transition to net zero will bring for our communities prosperity and wellbeing but noted it is essential that we must bring people with us, it must be a fair and just transition for all focusing on equity for people and communities.  

Professor Boyd explained that the purpose of the session was to provide council with a broad introduction to the topic and associated issues and to have an initial exploratory discussion, surface issues and highlight areas where council could take forward work in a subgroup.    

Professor Boyd introduced Catriona Laing, Deputy Director Domestic Climate Change who gave a presentation on Scottish Government Just Transition ambitions and current policy priorities.    

Professor Boyd introduced Professor David Reay, co-chair of the Just Transition Commission who introduced the Just Transition Commission and summarised their remit, activities to date and forward work programme.   

Professor Boyd handed over to Ms McAllan Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition.  She highlighted that Net Zero and a Just Transition sat side by side in her portfolio and that we have legislation in place that embeds the principles of a Just Transition, which means reducing emissions in a way which tackles inequality and promotes fair work is at the heart of Scotland’s approach to reaching net zero.  She commented that we have seen how communities in Scotland have been impacted by past unplanned changes and hoped that the council and the Just Transition Commission could help Government address some of the difficult challenges ahead.  

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

  • the importance of monitoring and evaluation and how we can use and integrate data sets better. The importance of a participatory approach, ensuring that communities are engaged and have access to trusted sources of information was also noted 
  • actions to support a just transition need to deliberately target and benefit those most disadvantaged and impoverished in society.  In community events and workshops actions must be taken to ensure those who are most disadvantaged and vulnerable have a voice and are able to access the necessary skills/training to realise the opportunities available from transition to net zeror 
  • to achieve our net zero and nature positive ambitions a major change is required in the economy, and this will require social support; and a redistributed/redesigned tax system.  Government must look at the value for money of different options, including their efficiency and trade-offs 
  • First Minister commented that to achieve our goal we need to get political consensus and unanimity to tackle climate change.  Professor Boyd noted that one of the headline messages of previous FMEC discussions was that Scotland is unlikely to achieve its net zero ambitions if political parties cannot agree a long-term strategic implementation plan that can be sustained across parliamentary terms  
  • we need to understand the barriers to behaviour change, at both an individual and societal level, and remove barriers to sustainable choices.  The roll of stepping stone actions, which are the steps an individual takes that incrementally embed behaviour change was also highlighted as key.  Identifying barriers at each step enables them to be addressed and solutions found 
  • Ms Slater commented that it was important that we are not only targeting the most disadvantaged in society but also those members of society who have significant wealth who may be disproportionately adding to the problem 
  • we need to get specific about the details of the opportunities from a just transition and make these clear to both society and business  
  • climate change is happening now, and we must give more consideration to adapting to climate change and identifying the jobs opportunities and skills that we need to cope with the impacts and make Scotland more resilient    
  • the response to the covid pandemic showed that the more explanation and evidence that accompanies the rationale for an action the more likely a  behaviour change is to be achieved     
  • Professor Boyd suggested that there was possibly a role for FMEC to help support Government to identify the big opportunities of a just transition and to feed this into the narrative 

Ms McAllan thanked the council for their views and reiterated how valuable the role of the Just Transition Commission was in reflecting the view and needs of society back to Ministers and invited them to keep challenging us.    

Professor Boyd thanked members and Ministers for their inputs and asked members for their views on the next steps.  He noted that several themes had emerged in discussion for further consideration including ensuring the opportunities of a just transition are articulated clearly, the role of behaviour change in achieving a transition to net zero and how we can use data better.    

Professor Boyd thanked FM and Ministerial colleagues and closed the meeting.

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