Green Lairds and the great carbon offset: how to reconcile natural capital, net-zero and just transition priorities? 4 May 2022
From Aidan Hetherington
Our expert panel will discuss the trends for large-scale
land purchases for carbon offsetting in Scotland, what is driving these trends,
and what the future holds.
Wednesday 4 May 2022, 18:30–20:00
· Charles Hendry, Honorary Professor and President of BIEE (Chair)
· Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh; Executive Director for Edinburgh Climate Change Institute; Director of Policy at ClimateXChange
· Kirsten Jenkins, Lecturer in Energy, Environment and Society, University of Edinburgh
· Ailsa Raeburn, Chairperson for Community Land Scotland; Chair of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust
· Stephen Young, Head of Policy at Scottish Land and Estates
In this joint event with the Business School and the British Institute for Energy Economics (BIEE), a panel of academic and practitioner experts will address the following questions:
What trends are we witnessing in rural Scotland with
regards to large-scale land purchases for carbon offsetting?
What is driving these trends and what does the future look like?
What positive and negative impacts are these offsets having, in terms of net-zero, natural capital and a just transition?
How are these carbon offsetting projects impacting local communities?
What needs to change to ensure that these projects create added-value for Scotland’s rural communities?
Registration and coffee from 6pm. The event will be followed by a networking drinks reception.
Voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) offer a means of offsetting carbon emissions, by funding projects that deliver equivalent carbon emissions reductions elsewhere. Aligned with growing net-zero ambitions, VCMs are experiencing a period of unprecedented growth. In 2020, the market was worth $300 million and could be worth upward of $50 billion by 2030.
Despite its various criticisms (such as permanence, additionality), interest in accredited VCMs (see Verra, Woodland Carbon Code) is gathering pace in the UK, commonly with a focus on carbon sequestration via changed land-use (e.g. afforestation). The impact of offsetting has been most acute in the Scottish Highlands, typically with a focus on “rewilding” by companies and wealthy individuals; often known as “Green Lairds”. This has typically included:
direct investment from major companies into offsetting schemes, such as Shell’s £5m investment to plant 100 hectares of new native woodland Glengarry forest, or
major land purchases, such as BrewDog’s acquisition of 9,308 acres near Aviemore to create its “Lost Forest”
An unintended consequence is how these purchases are driving up land prices, making community ownership less affordable and undermining community wealth building. Offsetting can also prioritise VCM investor’ priorities to cut carbon emissions over place-based economic, social and other environmental benefits.
There remains broader questions too about the extent to which the wider community will (in)directly benefit from VCM projects. As the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission explain, “without careful design and meaningful engagement there is a risk that benefits may flow mainly to large landowners and opportunities for community benefit will be missed”. This lack of direct community benefit is of particular concern to Scottish Highland communities—the typical hosts of these projects—given they have some of the highest fuel poverty rates in Scotland.
This event therefore explores the impacts voluntary carbon offsetting is having on Scotland’s landscape and its communities. We examine ways to better align carbon offsetting with the goal of affording communities enduring benefits and a meaningful degree of control.