Carbon offsetting: Scotland must wake up to the great peatland racket – Brian Wilson

It is not often that Scotland commands a 3,000-word report in the New York Times so something unusual must be happening to justify it.

International speculators are eye up Scottish estates for carbon offsetting schemes (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
International speculators are eye up Scottish estates for carbon offsetting schemes (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

The problem is how little recognition the same story has been given in Scotland, as a highly political issue.

The article’s subject was the policy of paying landowners to restore degraded peatlands in the interests of carbon capture. This has led to an explosion in demand for Scottish estates as speculators pick up 80 per cent grants and wait for the market in carbon credits to develop, fuelled by corporations which can “greenwash” themselves by offsetting against their own polluting activities.

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What the New York Times found extraordinary was the terms on which this trade is being encouraged. “In effect”, said the report, “Scotland has said: ‘Bill us for the digging, and keep all the gold you can mine.’” Who came up with that idea? And what mention of community interest?

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Of course, while estate sales catch headlines, the great truth of Scottish land ownership is not how much it changes but how it stays the same. Not only international speculators are onto this latest racket but estate owners who have been degrading peatland for generations, in pursuit of “sport”. Now they are being paid to undo their own damage.

All this raises massive questions about land ownership and the use of public funds yet the policy has scarcely been discussed at Holyrood. The New York Times recognises its fundamental significance. When will the Scottish Parliament?

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