Comment: Opportunities are plain to see, for peat’s sake

Scotland holds over 60 per cent of the UK's peatlands. Picture: TSPL
Scotland holds over 60 per cent of the UK's peatlands. Picture: TSPL
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SCOTS expertise can play a role in safeguarding the planet, writes Roddy Gow

At the seminal Paris UN Conference on Climate Change held in December the world literally came together and agreed to save our planet from the effects of environmental degradation – to save life on earth as we know it. Despite all of the other pressing global issues of volatile financial markets, violence in the Middle East prolonging the refugee crisis and political events in the US, none is more important in our collective psyche than the health of our small blue­-green planet ­­and I would suggest, the role that we Scots can play is safeguarding the environment.

The Paris declaration suggests there is a great opportunity to export and utilise on a global scale the environmental technology and expertise that Scots have developed in water and land management, much of it in what is called “nature-based solutions”.

There has been much discussion about the devastating environmental effects caused by developing country “economic miracles”. In addition to China, most of Asia suffers from environmental degradation whether it be from mismanaged water waste polluting rivers, lakes and the ocean, or widespread ocean plastic pollution. Asia is in need of technology and expertise that mitigates and provides solutions. There are several Scottish companies working in Asia and through UN efforts, but Scottish entrepreneurs could be doing much more.

However, closer to home, in the moors and bogs of Scotland there lies the significant challenge of restoring our precious peatlands and managing our rivers which provide clean water for most of Great Britain. Scotland has developed the expertise and nature-based solutions which we can and should export to countries like Mongolia, China and Bangladesh at the same time that we are implementing that expertise at home.

Scotland holds over 60% of the UK’s peatlands and over 80% of blanket bogs, one of the most widespread peatland types. Internationally important peatland sites occur from the Scottish Borders to the Northern Isles. The UK peatlands cover over 2 million hectares which store over 3 billion tonnes of carbon, more than half of that in the Amazon basin rainforest.

The benefit our inland water bodies, including peatlands, bring to water quality are worth £1.5 billion per year to the UK economy and the amenity benefits of living close to rivers and lochs are worth another £1.3 billion. When we damage these ecosystems we lose these benefits at a measurable cost to society.

The Scottish Government has set a world-leading example in its strategic work on peatlands, including the introduction of peatland action grants, a National Peatland Plan and policy commitments to include peatlands in national greenhouse gas accounting. It is this and the expertise developed in Scotland that we can bring to bear in other countries, where our consulting abilities can generate both revenues and real change for the better. This is something that Scotland can export!

• Roddy Gow is Chairman and Founder of the Asia Scotland Institute,