EMERGING MARKETS for the carbon and natural capital tied up in Scottish land must be made to work in the public interest – and not just for private gain.

According to Scotland’s land reform body, the Scottish Land Commission, the new carbon economy is already leading some companies and institutions to acquire large chunks of Scottish land directly to offset their emissions.

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While welcoming this 'big opportunity' for the country to use its land to help create a net zero economy, the SLC stressed the importance of communities and local economies benefitting and sharing in this new value.

The SLC is currently working to understand the effect of carbon and natural capital on the land market, so it can in turn advise Scottish Government and the land sector on the risks, opportunities and steps needed to ensure the market works in the widest interest.

It noted that the fast growth of new carbon markets had raised some 'fundamental questions' about how land is owned and used, who owns and benefits from carbon rights and natural capital and how land is bought and sold.

Chief executive of the SLC, Hamish Trench, said: “One thing is clear – much of our land is finding new forms of value.

“With climate action our urgent challenge, Scotland is well positioned by virtue of our geography to make the most of the significant finance that governments and investors around the world are turning to in this societal challenge, creating a win-win of economy and nature benefits.

“This brings both risks and opportunities – it’s going to be important that national and local economies and communities benefit from changes and the increasing value of the land. This is the right time to be shaping these markets in the public interest.”

Mr Trench continued: “Our first step is to develop a better shared analysis and understanding of the scale and nature of relevant land transactions happening on and off market at the moment. Improving transparency and shared knowledge is a necessary start.

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“Then we need to address the question of who benefits and how carbon and natural capital values are shared productively so this value is retained in the Scottish economy. If carbon and natural capital values do grow, as those buying in early anticipate, then it’s reasonable that increases in value from a shared national resource create public as well as private benefit," he said.

“On a more immediate note, those buying land now for carbon, just as for any other motivation, should understand that with rights in land go responsibilities," he stressed. "There is a clear framework in Scotland setting out these expectations in the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement and the Land Commission’s Good Practice Protocols that support its practical implementation.

“Those looking to invest or attract investment should also consider responsible governance that engages communities in both decision making and benefit. There is no need to wait for policy or legislation to catch up, though regulatory frameworks will undoubtedly develop. It’s open to us all to shape responsible practice and set shared expectations."

Natural Capital is to be a headline topic at the upcoming Land Commission conference, Land Connection 2021, which takes place from Monday, October 4 to Wednesday, October 6.

The conference will open with a keynote address by Scottish Government Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, Màiri McAllan MSP, who will set out the government’s ambitions and priorities for land reform.