Natural capital is the new wild west of financial investment

The fast-expanding market for investment and speculation in land used for carbon offset and natural capital stocks has been termed the “new wild west” by some commentators, as big business moves in to take advantage of a relatively unregulated market.

But against this background of a growing number of “green lairds” and claims that the country could become the “bargain basement for carbon offsetting” a set of principles for investment in Scotland’s natural capital - such as peatlands and woodlands – has been revealed by the Scottish Government aimed at ensuring such investment delivers social, environmental and economic benefits.

The Scottish Government’s proposals aim to develop a values-led and high-integrity market for natural capital which restores and enhances nature in a fair manner, to the benefit of communities as well as business.

But while the administration promised to help fund the process, it has recognised that with an estimated £20 billion shortfall in investment in the area over the next ten years, the private sector would need to help plug the gap.

The six interim principles were published this week, setting out the government’s ambitions and expectations for responsible private investment, for communities, investors, land owners, land managers, public bodies and other market stakeholders.

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Claiming the move put Scotland ahead in setting out ambitions for the natural capital market, Minister for Environment and Land Reform Mairi McAllan said:

“Private investment in Scotland’s natural capital will be critical to enabling the pace and scale of action required to deliver our world leading ambitions on addressing climate change and biodiversity loss,” said McAllan.

“We are determined to ensure that this necessary private investment is socially responsible and provides wider public benefit, including for local communities.”

The land owners’ and rural business organisation, Scottish Land and Estates welcomed the recognition that there needed to be positive collaboration between landowners, communities and government to achieve action on climate change.

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SLE’s chief executive, Sarah-Jane Laing said:

“Whilst there is continuing debate around ‘green lairds’ and the need for further land reform, the statement makes clear that £20billion of private investment will be required over the next decade.

“There is a real opportunity to provide not only environmental gain but also economic and social value through new career and job opportunities which will help sustain our rural communities.”

NFU Scotland Director of Policy Jonnie Hall said the move coincided with the UK Government’s consultation on a UK Emissions Trading Scheme that would look at the role of agricultural land in the carbon trading market.

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“This is a key priority for NFU Scotland as much of the private investment in peatlands and woodlands in Scotland at this time is being undertaken by non-agricultural businesses for carbon offsetting purposes. That is a largely unregulated market that needs effective safeguards built into it.”

He said that investment in Scotland’s land assets had to be more than just a financial transaction for corporate credibility – and needed to take the long-term future of those living and working on the land, and the economic, environmental and social contribution they made to rural Scotland into account.

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