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Natural capital Update: Countryside voices must be heard in the climate debate

Crawford Mackay

 COP26 and the variety of reporting and comment emanating from the Glasgow event underline how much effort and money will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to stop climate change.

 Safeguarding life on our planet will involve and affect almost every aspect of how we live and work – investment, domestic and international trade, supply chains for goods and services – everything. We can also expect much regulatory and media scrutiny in this process. 

The scale of the challenge should be no surprise as we’re looking at changing behaviours acquired over more than two centuries which, whatever else they’ve done, have brought unprecedented wealth and comfort, to the developed world anyway. The aim is to change in a way that protects and preserves the good things – health, education, housing, prosperity, cultural life and much else.


Making sure as many people as possible participate in and benefit from efforts to decarbonise the economy must be a key priority, not least in the countryside.


During COP26 I attended a fascinating session, co-sponsored by Galbraith, discussing the skills, challenges and opportunities that will arise in sectors including land, energy, transport, construction and technology.


Speaking on training in the rural and agricultural sectors, I stressed the need for a balanced approach and to ensure that we are engaging with farmers and landowners rather than being overly critical by focusing on some of the negative impacts of historic methods of food production and land use. The Climate Opportunity Ideas Factory – Skills for a Just Transition, was part of the Edinburgh Science Festival though took place in Glasgow.


My starting point was, we need to produce food to sustain our population. If we want to promote real change, we cannot make participants in the rural economy feel villainised for actions that were encouraged in years gone by, such as Government-funded drainage schemes.


The agricultural and land management sectors are in a unique position – part of the problem, but also a huge part of the solution. We can make our supply chains and methods of production more sustainable, but also offer sequestration to aid the transition to a decarbonised economy.


We therefore need to encourage new thinking, and involve progressive farmers and landowners to engage with academic institutions such as colleges, so that when young farmers or new entrants return to farms, they’re challenging why something has always been done in a certain way. The innovation required will not be restricted to young people, but must also include established farmers to challenge thinking and practices.


It was fascinating to hear from a such a broad spectrum of stakeholders and debate how we can ensure the necessary skills for transition across society, but it was especially good to provide a voice for the countryside as, now more than ever, the parts of the UK and the world that exist away from cities have a huge role to play to all our futures.


• Natural Capital: The expert advisors at Galbraith guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.