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.

4. International Case Studies

In undertaking their duties, members of the Environmental Council will collectively draw on their experience and insights from operating in the UK and across the world. In doing so, they are able to draw on best practice solutions that simultaneously respond to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Summarised below are examples of the case studies shared by council members, some of which they are involved in, of particular relevance to the remit of the Council. The emerging priorities and work themes that relate to the case studies are noted after each case study.

Payments for Ecosystem Services – The Republic of Costa Rica[33]

In the 1990s, the vast forests of Costa Rica were reduced to half their former size. In response, the Ministry for Environment developed a Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme which has resulted in reforestation. This has benefitted both biodiversity and climate change.

Costa Rica's PES programmes paid citizens to protect forests, plant trees, and restore ecosystems. Landowners received direct payments for the environmental services that their lands produced when adopting sustainable land-use and forest-management techniques. Whilst previously the financial incentives resulted in landowners choosing to reduce forest cover, this scheme provided the incentive to do the reverse. The programme is funded through Costa Rica's fuel tax and water charge, as well as initiatives such as Certificates of Conservation of Biodiversity, carbon credits, and strategic alliances with the public and private sector.

The scheme has supported a doubling in size of Costa Rica's forests which led to a boom in ecotourism, contributing $4 billion to the economy. This strategic intervention has proven its worth, and the Costa Rica government is now taking the approach to urban areas. It believes 30% of the world's land and oceans could be protected in this way too. The Republic of Costa Rica has been awarded the first ever Earthshot prize[34] in the 'protect and restore nature' category.

Emerging priority 'First steps towards transformation' & work theme 'Scotland's communities in the environment'.

Nature-based solutions across a region – Ethiopia (Nature-based Solutions in Action: Lessons from the Frontline, IIED[35])

The forests and valleys of the Bale mountains are home to hundreds of thousands of people in Southern Ethiopia but their watershed supports 9-12 million people in the lowlands across three countries. The pressure from agriculture, erratic rains and soil erosion in the highlands left all these communities risking chronic food insecurity, while felling their forests released greenhouse gases. With so many issues to tackle, the policies designed to help were not joined up, nor followed through. Here the response focussed first on protecting people and nature locally, then scaled up to the natural resources across the Bale Eco-region.

The mountainous heart of the region is a National Park, so the nature-based solutions extended from the park to its surroundings. A partnership of local and international NGO's and researchers worked with the regional and local governments, on projects to enhance the drought resilience and food security of the most vulnerable populations, as well as the wellbeing of both highland and lowland communities; and to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem functions. In a second phase, the package is being scaled up to the entire Bale Eco-Region, with best practices for managing watersheds, and improving livelihoods through market approaches. There's work for governments too, developing their ability to join up policies for managing natural resources and protected areas, and those for the livelihoods of their people. Finally, the evidence to show what works is being collected on a larger scale, in order to learn from the impact of this integrated, eco-regional approach.

Emerging priority: 'Scotland's land & marine resources and future use' and work theme: 'Scotland's Communities in the Environment'.

The big food redesign: Regenerating nature with the circular economy (The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021)

The big food redesign explores how by rethinking the ingredients used and how food is produced, can provide choices that are better for customers, farmers and the climate – and reduce biodiversity loss associated with the food sector by up to 50% compared to business as usual[36].

Currently, the food industry is responsible for one-third of global GHG emissions[37] and more than 50% of human-induced pressure on biodiversity[38]; but instead of bending nature to produce food, food can be designed for nature to thrive. Circular design for food demonstrates opportunities for companies to go beyond better sourcing (sourcing the same ingredients through regenerative practices) to fundamentally redesign their product portfolios. The study explores a combination of four design opportunities where companies can take action:

  • Diverse ingredients – Using a greater diversity of animal and plant varieties and species as ingredients. This can reduce threats to the food system such as pests, diseases and extreme weather shocks. It can also yield production benefits by enabling a shift towards regenerative production systems that integrate a variety of food types which benefit one another when grown together.
  • Lower impact ingredients – Simple swaps that have reduced environmental impacts, even when conventionally produced.
  • Upcycled ingredients – Transforming food by-products, that would otherwise not have gone to human consumption, into new ingredients. For example, by upcycling post-harvest agricultural residues from growing oats into sweeteners. Such an approach can get the most value from the land, water and agricultural inputs which go into food production.
  • Regeneratively produced ingredients – Producing food in ways that have positive outcomes for nature such as improved soil health. These methods can also be applied to the way diverse, lower-impact and upcycled ingredients are grown.

Emerging priority and work theme: 'The next steps towards transformation'

The Natural Capital Project[39] - A global partnership centred at Stanford University[40]

Often, the benefits that nature generates are widely appreciated only upon their loss. The Natural Capital Project (NatCap) seeks to change this. NatCap work with decision-makers to develop nature-based solutions, driving investments in ecosystem regeneration for maximal benefit to people. They use iterative engagement that begins with stakeholders and their needs, so the new science and tools developed are immediately relevant and can be incorporated into existing decision processes.

NatCap work in a wide array of places and sectors, systematically developing nature-based solutions to problems as varied as: building resilience to climate and coastal hazards in Belize and the Gulf Coast states of the United States; guiding development planning across China; managing corporate risk in global sourcing decisions for Unilever; targeting investments in forest restoration for IUCN and country governments in Africa; and making smart transportation loan decisions by the Inter-American Development Bank across Latin America.

In addition to demonstrating the power of natural capital approaches to transform decisions, NatCap have created software (now used in over 185 countries) that shows where and for whom nature matters most, built capacity through learning exchanges and training, and engaged leaders to accelerate the uptake and magnify the impact of successes.

NatCap have found that a major challenge is to find ways to transform human actions toward pathways of sustainability that, (1) appreciate the vital necessity of natural capital, (2) reconnect development to the biosphere, and (3) stabilise Earth in conditions favourable for a globalised, human-dominated world. While 'biosphere stewardship' entails cross-scale collaboration, it is ultimately place-based, emerging from direct interactions between people and the living world. Many case studies illustrate how place-based governance, that is, governance that is informed by and adaptive to local places in a cross-scale and even global context, can support transformations toward biosphere stewardship.

Now NatCap is advancing gross ecosystem product (GEP), a new framework for capturing the economic values of nature to society, together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Asian Development Bank. GEP is being deployed across China, to guide financial investments in restoration and regeneration, to evaluate policies, and to track progress. In March 2021, the UN Statistical Commission sanctioned GEP for global use, and several countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are already underway with adoption.

SeaBOS and the Keystone Actor Dialogues

Overexploitation of fish resources is a crucial problem with limited scope and scale of progress. The Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) initiated a scientific analysis of globally operating seafood companies engaged in seafood production. They found that thirteen companies were responsible for 11 to 16 % of all wild seafood caught, and that together they dominated the industry in white fish, pelagic fish, tuna, salmon farming, and feeds. Through their actions they shape marine food webs and ecosystems, connect ecosystems globally, control globally relevant segments of production through subsidiaries, and they also play a major role in ocean governance through participation in multiple institutions and governing bodies.

Then the SRC, together with several partner science institutions, engaged in bilateral dialogues with the companies and their CEOs. After two years of such engagement, eight companies were convinced of the value of participating in a global keystone dialogue. The companies agreed to form a global coalition for ocean stewardship, based on science - Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS[41]). A second global dialogue with 10 companies enabled agreement on priorities and a way forward to translate their high-level commitments to operational activities. At a third dialogue, companies reported real progress made and also committed to long-term funding, an article of association, and leadership of a secretariat. Whilst still in an early phase of development, companies appear committed to change toward ocean stewardship, and their commitment is already affecting seafood supply chains.

Emerging priority: 'The future use of Scotland's land and marine resources' and work theme: 'Scotland's space on the planet'

NetZeroPlus (NZ+): The Right Tree in the Right Place

(University of Exeter, University of Aberdeen, Forest Research, National Trust)

The Royal Society, Committee on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences and many others have all highlighted the vital and urgent role that land use change has to play in meeting the net zero commitments flowing from the Paris Accord on climate change. But land use change is also vital to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss; creating high quality habitats that protect our wild species and bending the curve on biodiversity loss. Woodland creation in particular can play a positive role in addressing a wealth of other environmental, economic and social issues associated with land use issues, including flood risk and water quality, access to high quality environments for disadvantaged communities and the health and wellbeing benefits that accompany these. However, tree planting also favours some wildlife over others, and its potential costs include effects on farming incomes and livelihoods, food production, food imports and potential 'carbon leakage' from those imports (replacing domestic meat production with less-sustainable imports).

Considering all of these factors will help to design the policies that lead to genuine improvements for Scotland's present and future generations but the process to do so is complex. Altering the locations in which woodland creation occurs could radically change its benefits and costs. The more trees we plant, the more important that these decisions are well-guided.

The NetZeroPlus research programme unites Scottish academic excellence with research, governance and business partners from across the UK, to understand the relationship between changing the location of Scotland's woodland creation programme and the benefits it will generate. The research develops 21st Century decision support systems that combine the natural and physical sciences, economics and social science. A process of co-design with government and business is intended to deliver tools which are compatible with real-world policy creation and decision making.

Emerging priority: 'The future use of Scotland's land and marine resources' and work theme: 'Scotland's space on the planet'



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