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.

3. Emerging Priorities for the Council

The First Minister's Environmental Council has identified a number of 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 therefore 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 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. They will also require change to the way in which policy objectives are implemented, for example by recognising the importance of targeting the right locations for change, embedding the principles of a circular economy, lower resource use across all aspects of society, changing modes of travel, and how goods and services can be priced to reflect the full environmental 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. A consistent priority here will be the need to target these changes according to the environments that receive them and the wider social benefits and costs that they generate including recognition of the communities they can enhance. Scotland's oceans can also expect to see increased deployment of renewable energy facilities, and protection and enhancement of blue carbon habitats[31]. There is a need to create the right conditions for a resilient fishing industry, enhancement of new, sustainable approaches to marine food production that do not negatively affect wild marine resources and habitats; a healthy marine environment and healthy coastal communities.

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, as will the total resource footprint of Scotland, which accounts for impacts beyond Scotland. 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[32].



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