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What we want from COP26

Scotland is about to host the crucial international gathering tasked with tackling climate change.

Here, our professionals Crawford Mackay, Eleanor Harris, Georgina Weston and Rachel Russell describe some outcomes they’d like to see.

In November Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Partners (COP26).

The intention is to bring together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to accelerate climate change action in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement and the goals set out by the Un.

The COP26 goals are to:

SECURE net zero greenhouse gas emissions

– those thought primarily responsible for climate change – by mid-century and keep a limit of 1.5°C on warming;

ADAPT activity and lifestyle to protect communities and natural habitats;

MOBILISE finance to deliver the above; and

WORK together to achieve these aims.

The conference is being hailed as the most significant event to tackle climate change since the Paris Agreement. So what do we, as advisers to rural land and property businesses, consider to be the most important outcomes of COP 26 to deliver the intended goals?

Invest global, act local

Global investors are acting on climate change, making billions of dollars of finance available for decarbonisation.

The challenge is that many of the solutions are at local scale, which are inaccessible with economic benefits that are difficult to return to the investor. Moreover, since big money means big power, there is a risk that the smaller national or local businesses are effectively, and perhaps unintentionally, ‘bought out’ in the process of implementing climate solutions.

Whether it’s an old-fashioned tax or an innovative mechanism – a ‘COP contract’ – we would like to see COP26 develop a global framework to deliver big investment to tackle problems at local scale.

From the work Galbraith is currently involved with that might be implementing sustainable farming systems or creating urban tree canopies, sustainable transport systems, and climate resilient lowcarbon housing stock for whole cities at a time.

Above all, the measures have to be accessible to local landowners and businesses, so that collectively, we can implement measures at scale so that they have an impact on climate change.

UK as a climate leader

This is an opportunity for the UK to use the conference as a base for building a structure for reaching net zero which other countries can use as an example.

Scotland has a major role to play in this structure with its abundance of renewable resources and Galbraith are advising a number of landowners on how to realise this potential.

Meanwhile, England is making headway with farming subsidies in the radical move away from the Common Agricultural Policy towards ELMS and Natural Capital.

Whilst the UK, and Scotland in particular, has an abundance of renewable energy potential are we truly making the most of it? Scotland should ensure it is not left behind in this radical change and support landowners to make changes with clear legislation to enable this.

A good example of this is Pumped Storage Hydro Schemes (PSH). There are currently a number of consented projects within Scotland which cannot be developed at present due to a pricing issue.

Carbon-capturing supply chains

The efficiency and viability of renewable energy installations is improving every day and the world needs to crack on with implementing schemes which harness our natural resources.

Yet industry cannot be decarbonised through renewable energy alone, and the extraction of materials such as sand and iron ore can cause environmental problems aside from the carbon emissions.

A large part of the answer may be in regenerative supply chains, which not only reduce carbon but even capture it. This includes farming practices which rebuild soil carbon, with measures such as using seaweed to tackle methane emissions from livestock by creating sustainable kelp farms, and expanding forests so as to harvest timber and reduce our reliance on mineral materials.

We would like to see COP26 set targets for the proportion of global commodities produced from regenerative systems, and provide farmers and landowners with the means to implement measures which tackle climate change whilst providing wholesome, locally produced food for the nation.

Sustainable diets

Sustainable diets have the potential to majorly impact carbon emissions, but change is dependent on public engagement.

One of the key changes is sustainably produced local produce, with a consideration for how food is produced and the distance it needs to travel reflected in trade agreements.

When it comes to the production of goods, this has always been actual cost/profit margin driven, with less regard for the environmental impact of producing overseas and the consequential food miles.

Therefore, should the environmental cost be added to the cheaper imported price when it reaches the shelf to encourage more localised production?

Providing support for lamb, beef and dairy producers to assess and improve their sustainability credentials would help to increase their profile with those now looking for sustainability in food.

Sustainable agricultural support

With the UK’s departure from the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) we now have a domestic agricultural subsidy regime.

As a result of COP26, we would like to see the introduction of an agricultural subsidy regime that balances the demands of the environment and climate change with that of food production (we can’t overlook the fact that we need food).

As an example, the introduction of a more localised approach to the environmental parameters set by the subsidy scheme which allow for the much more efficient deployment of capital beyond the previous “one size fits all” approach of the CAP.

Practical legislation

The Scottish Government has delayed confirmation of Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for private rented property. The draft legislation was published in 2019 but has not yet been approved by the Scottish Parliament.

This is an issue which Galbraith and many clients are having to contend with. Providing clear guidance and legislation for private landlords with suitable notice, along with grant funding to enable many of these measures to be implemented, would allow for property improvements to be carried out.

Clarifying this legislation is the first step in improving energy efficiency standards in property and we call upon the Scottish Government to provide the clarity that is required.

Conclusion

Overall, we need to understand how we are contributing to climate change in order to proactively do something to assist. We need to understand our emissions and the impact we’re having on the climate and then work out how we can improve it. In order to reach net zero, there is a need to de-centralise this and let individuals, businesses and nations know how they can play their part.