First Minister's Environmental Council: first report, key priorities and future work programme

This is the first report by the First Minister’s Environmental Council. It notes Scotland’s ambitions and response to the twin crises, international examples of environmental action, and sets out the directions of the future work programme for the Council.

Executive Summary

Purpose of the report

Scotland, and all other countries, stand at a pivotal point with urgent and wide scale action required to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

This report by the First Minister's Environmental Council is published as Scotland hosts COP26 in Glasgow, arguably the world's last best chance to get runaway climate change under control. It notes Scotland's ambitions and response to the twin crises, international examples of environmental action, and sets out the directions of the future work programme for the Council.

The Role of the First Minister's Environmental Council

The Environmental Council is a newly established advisory group to the Scottish Government. It is co-chaired by the First Minister and Professor Sir Ian Boyd. The full membership is provided in Annex 1.

The group has two functions. Firstly, it will act as a "sounding board" for near-term policy issues, such as the balance of different environmental aims, or how environmental issues impact on wider policy considerations such as the economy and health. The second function, where the Council will focus most of its efforts, will be in thought leadership, advising on the long-term policy trajectory for Scotland.

The Council will engage across the range of environmental policy areas, such as biodiversity, marine resources, waste, and the nature-based aspects of climate change and the Just Transition.

The Need for Urgent Action

The world's economies are stretching the planet's resources beyond sustainable limits. Global demands on nature far exceed its supply and are causing unprecedented impacts on the climate and natural environment.

Tackling these crises is important in and of itself. There is a strong moral case for ensuring that future generations inherit a planet with a healthy and diverse environment. Tackling these crises in a just way is also fundamental to safeguarding Scotland's economic prosperity and wellbeing. The economy is embedded within nature, and a healthy natural environment is key for broader societal wellbeing.

Successive Scottish Governments have made important progress in addressing the drivers of these crises. Scotland's Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have halved since 1990, and awareness of the importance of biodiversity has increased, with the introduction of a statutory biodiversity duty on public bodies and the publication of Scotland's first ever biodiversity strategy. Steps to reduce the impact of consumption have increased recycling and reduced the volume of waste going to landfill by two thirds since 2005.

Scotland's geography also presents opportunities for responding to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. This has been evidenced already through the deployment of renewable energy technology, and the country's natural capital provides opportunities, such as peatland restoration, which if implemented correctly and with ambition can support both climate change and biodiversity goals simultaneously. As a country with a large land area and rich marine and renewable resources, Scotland has potential to be a global pioneer in tackling these crises and hence a model to other nations.

Despite progress, a significant acceleration in action is required. Scotland is still experiencing biodiversity loss, and whilst GHG emissions in Scotland have fallen, the pace of emission reduction needs to accelerate quickly, and encompass many more sectors, to end the country's contribution to climate change. More fundamentally, the level of consumption and resource use in Scotland, and other advanced economies, is continuing to stretch the planet's regenerative capacity beyond sustainable limits.

Three earths would be required for everyone in the world to live as Scotland does. This is not sustainable.

Emerging Priorities for the Council

The Scottish Government has set out ambitious goals for responding to these challenges. These are discussed further in Section two of this report.

In reviewing the government's future ambitions, and the contribution that the Council can make, members have identified three over-arching priorities that cut across the policy areas described above. These are areas where the Council believes that further society wide action will be particularly important if meaningful progress is to be achieved. They form the basis of the Council's future work programme, which is set out in Section five.

Scotland's Relationship with the Environment - The way Scottish society consumes, works, and travels is often at odds with measures required to respond to the twin crises. The Scottish Government has been clear on the need to move to a net zero, climate resilient and nature positive economy that operates within the planet's sustainable limits. However, challenges and uncertainties remain on how this transformation should be achieved. These challenges will require reconsideration of many long held values and resultant behaviours and a reappraisal of how environmental impacts are accounted for in a wide range of societal and individual choices, decisions and preferences. For instance, how to embed the principles of a circular economy, and lower resource use across all aspects of society, changing modes of travel, and how goods and services can be priced to reflect the full environment cost of their production.

The Future Use of Scotland's Land & Marine Resources – the success of many of Scotland's policies to address biodiversity loss and climate change hinge on changing how the country's land and marine resources are utilised. On land, we can expect to see increased woodland cover, changing agricultural practices and produce, peatland restoration, increases in renewable energy deployment, increased planting of biomass crops, more space for nature and greater use of nature-based solutions to support climate change adaptation and other outcomes in our rural and urban environments. Scotland's oceans can also expect to see increased deployment of renewable energy facilities, protection and enhancement of blue carbon habitats[1], the need to create the right conditions for a resilient fishing industry and a healthy marine environment.

How these new demands can be effectively balanced, in addition to the existing uses of Scotland's land and marine assets and alongside other policy objectives, at both the local and national level, will be a key consideration. Likewise, it will be important to ensure that the frameworks needed to incentivise and support the changes in land and marine use needed are in place, and that all levers of government work in unison to achieve these objectives, including via the encouragement of increased, responsible private investment in terrestrial and marine natural capital.

Next Steps Towards Transformation – Many of the changes required to respond to the twin crises are clear, and the high level policy outcomes and objectives have been established. However as progress is made, the changes required will become more challenging. The most straightforward choices, for example those with the lowest cost and greatest public support, will understandably be implemented first, whilst the more challenging, or higher cost choices will be encountered as the transition progresses. Many of these steps that need to be undertaken are known, and can be achieved with existing technology. However, collectively, countries have been hesitant to implement the more radical options necessary to achieve the transformational change required. The need to communicate these changes and build consensus across society will be vital if the Scottish Government is to be effective at achieving the change it desires[2].

Conclusion and Next Steps

This report outlines the current policy landscape in Scotland, emerging issues, case studies of international best practice and the Council's work programme for the coming years. The report is necessarily open-ended as it remains for the FMEC to prioritise their actions within the scope of these areas. The priorities will evolve to reflect new developments and as the Council refines its ways of working. Further information about the Council is available on the Scottish Government website[3]. Any questions or comments on the report, or the Council's future work programme can be sent to



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