Nature COP: the next big chance to save the planet

December 22nd, 2021 by

By Deborah Long, chief officer, Scottish Environment LINK

Looking back on the rollercoaster of hope and despair that was COP26, there are many aspects of the Glasgow talks that give me cause for optimism as we enter 2022. One of the things that makes me hopeful is the enormous public profile of the Glasgow event. Pretty much everyone in Scotland knew about COP26 – and not just because the talks were hosted here. People are ever more aware of the urgency of the climate crisis.

Another thing that gives me hope for 2022 is the prominence of nature at COP26. In the negotiating rooms and out on the streets, nature inspired. We saw real recognition that halting biodiversity loss, in Scotland and around the world, is essential for the future of humanity. Nature has a crucial role to play in limiting and adapting to climate change. But it’s also clearer than ever that the solutions we put in place to tackle climate change must help restore the planet’s ecosystems. In short, we must address the nature and climate crises together.

So far, efforts to stop biodiversity loss and restore habitats and species are lagging far behind efforts to limit global temperature rises. This is true in Scotland as much as anywhere: Scotland has ambitious climate targets that are helping us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but despite one in nine species in Scotland being at risk of extinction, there are no equivalent targets in place for nature. Following a campaign by environment charities, the Scottish government has committed to introducing legally binding targets to restore nature in a Natural Environment Bill in 2023-4.

Despite the many failings of the annual UN climate talks – the COPs – these summits have undeniably helped galvanise countries to start taking action on climate change, albeit to a widely varying degree. For this reason, I want to see the UN biodiversity conference scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in spring 2022 (but facing possible delays due to covid) get as much attention and fanfare as COP26.

The Kunming conference is the latest in a series of international UN biodiversity summits, equivalent to the climate COPs, aimed at conserving and ensuring the sustainable use of global biodiversity. Confusingly, these are also referred to as COPs (‘conference of the parties’), and since it is the fifteenth, the Kunming conference is COP15.

So what can the world hope to achieve at this other COP, the nature COP?

First, we need the nature COP to set ambitious global targets for halting biodiversity loss and restoring nature, to give countries, including Scotland, a clear framework for their own national targets. These would be the equivalent of 1.5oC for climate.

Second, we need financial commitments. Biodiversity is declining at a faster rate now than at any time in human history. Stopping the decline and helping species and habitats to recover will be a massive job, and it won’t come cheap. But it’s a job we have to take seriously if we want ecosystems to continue to function and provide for our needs.

Third, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities must be protected. Biodiversity survives best where human pressure is less intense and where local communities work with nature, often using traditional techniques. Efforts to protect and restore biodiversity must work with local communities, rather than excluding or dispossessing them.

If it can make these things happen, and if it can help inspire the world to treat nature and climate with equal urgency, the nature COP might just be our next big chance to save the planet.  

This article was first published in the Scotsman on 21 December 2021.

How Scotland can reform its economy to work for people and planet

December 16th, 2021 by

Plans for a National Strategy for Economic Transformation will have to be bold and radical if it is to protect people and the planet. So far, the signs aren’t encouraging.

How many people know that a National Strategy for Economic Transformation is being prepared for Scotland?  Probably precious few, outside of policy wonk circles and the Holyrood in-crowd.

That does not seem right. This is to be a strategy for the whole nation to transform its economic outcomes, not just for government departments to follow, according to the Scottish Government. If so, a wide and deep process of consultation and debate is surely needed, to build popular support and buy-in from businesses, workers and citizens whose future it will affect, quite radically, if economic transformation is truly the goal.

Instead, a low-profile online consultation was launched in the summer with a 6 week deadline. There was little in the way of visible outreach promoting participation or efforts to ensure that the seldom-heard voices of those at the sharp end of the economic system were included.

If there has been outreach it must have been with business – it certainly was not with the environmental organisations which we represent, which is ironic because this was the only sector actively calling for a new economic strategy before the 2021 Holyrood elections .

Green groups had realised that vital objectives like zero emissions and protecting nature would only be achieved with the right economic policies; that existing economic management and fiscal policies had ignored these problems; and were often part of the problem, rather than the solution. Further, they had originated some of the few inspiring new ideas in the economic field in recent years – proposing a Scottish National Investment Bank; bringing the concept of Just Transition to the context in Scotland;  being strong advocates of a circular economy and the prioritisation of wellbeing.

As the initially vague framing for the new National Strategy for Economic Transformation has been tightened up, it has been reassuring to see that the objectives of tackling climate change and protecting nature are in fact embedded in the remit of the new strategy. However, these purposes do not appear to be reflected in the discussions of the Advisory Council which was set up to advise on drafting the strategy in the six-month timetable which the Scottish Government had imposed on itself .

Who is speaking for nature and urgent action on climate change?

In the minutes of its meetings we have looked in vain for discussions of how to get our economy back within planetary boundaries or by what multiple do we need to increase investment in order to achieve a just transition. Nor do we see debates about the fundamental changes needed if soaring economic inequalities are to be abated and wellbeing for all is to replace GDP growth as the core objective of our economy.

The 18 pages of minutes from the first three meetings of this body do not feature a single mention of decarbonisation, nature or biodiversity, circular economy, climate change (there is one reference to the Climate Change Plan as a document). The only mention of just transition is a warning that “Care is needed on the language around just transition, recognising that this needs to be managed carefully to provide the confidence for businesses to invest …”.

We need to see a draft of the new strategy before reaching final conclusions, but it does seem that environmental organisations were justified in our concerns when we said in a letter to the Cabinet Secretart “there is no-one on the Advisory Council with a background in the environmental movement nor anyone who will speak from a climate change or biodiversity perspective with a track record of insisting that the priority for economic policy has to be to keep to (or get back within) planetary limits”. 

Ten key points for transformation

In these circumstances, the Transform Our Economy group (Friends of the Earth Scotland, Wellbeing Economy Alliance and Scottish Environment LINK) has sought to fill the gap and propose how to tackle the urgent environmental and social challenges Scotland is facing. The new economic strategy needs to be bold in vision and broad in scope so we have set out Ten Key Points , criteria for what any truly transformative economic strategy would look like  

In summary, these start from a proposition which might seem obvious but which is truly radical for economic policy – that the purpose of the economy is to achieve goals which are not framed in economic terms like GDP. We suggest these should be ‘wellbeing for all within environmental limits’. Secondly, that requires setting and achieving specific objectives like decarbonisation, social equality and reducing use of raw materials. These in turn require a whole-economy approach, drawing on all the powers of all parts of government, not just the bits labelled ‘environment’ – it needs to be fully embedded in economic strategy and policy.

To combat existing pressures locking us into the damaging status quo, Scotland needs a different relationship between public and private realms. Investment decisions need to be guided by democratically-determined goals that benefit collective wellbeing, rather than by market forces alone. Assessments of impacts on climate change, equity and nature need to be integrated into economic decision-making. A truly transformational strategy will need to listen to everyone’s voices and harness everyone’s enthusiasm so it will have to find specific ways of bringing benefit to all, including the most marginalised.

These are vitally important and difficult challenges. Scotland does have the potential to rise to them and there are some tools for doing that already being put in place such as Just Transition Plans for every sector of the economy, a Circular Economy Bill, and the Scottish National Investment Bank. But as we have seen too often, bold-sounding announcements from the Scottish Government can remain just that. Trying again, even trying harder, with a stale, business-as-usual approach won’t work.

Scotland needs a bold re-design of our economy to deliver collective wellbeing within planetary boundaries. Let’s open up the discussion of what transformation could look like, and how to get there, drawing on input from all our communities.

Please see here for our full statement on the National Strategy for Economic Transformation.


Matthew Crighton, for the Transform Our Economy Alliance (Friends of the Earth Scotland, Wellbeing Economy Alliance and Scottish Environment LINK)


How will COP26 Deliver Recovery for Scottish Seas?

December 3rd, 2021 by

A blog by Esther Brooker, Marine Policy and Engagement Officer.


Scotland has been well and truly in the global limelight for the past weeks, with the high-profile UN Conference of the Parties for Climate Change (COP26) being co-hosted by the UK and Italian Governments in Glasgow [1].

Nations worldwide, particularly those in the global south bearing the brunt of climate impacts, had their hopes pinned on agreements needed at COP26 to halt and reverse the effects of climate change, most crucially to ensure that global temperatures do not exceed 1.5°C by the end of century. Each day of the conference was headlined by flurries of commitments by world governments – stopping deforestation, further developing clean (renewable) energy sources and accelerating a phase-out on extracting and burning coal. But were they meaningful and timely enough to enable the transformative, systemic change needed to achieve COP26 goals? It certainly seemed like the rhetoric to act urgently on climate change was there, but with subsequent analyses predicting that all the 2030 commitments on nationally determined contributions made by global nations involved in the summit will still result in a catastrophic global temperature rise of 2.4°C by the end of century, it may be too little too late.

And what of our ocean? We know it plays a fundamental role in mitigating climate change, having buffered warming rates by absorbing 90% of excess heat, absorbed at least 25% of our carbon emissions into the water and helped long term storage by channelling carbon via marine foodwebs and “blue carbon” habitats like seagrass, mangroves and saltmarsh into the seabed. We also know that climate change can harm the ocean, with excess heat bleaching tropical corals and altering fish distribution and increasing acidity, preventing many species laying down vital shell material. A healthy ocean is one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change. What then did our leaders do at COP26 to save our seas so that they can ultimately save us?

November 5th was Ocean Action Day and the UK made a number of commitments:

  • A £6 million UK contribution to PROBLUE, a World Bank fund that works across a broad range of ocean issues;
  • £400,000 to support the government of Fiji in issuing its first sovereign blue bond;
  • An additional £1 million contribution to the Global Fund for Coral Reefs;

Earlier this year the UK also committed £2 million to the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance, which hosted a roundtable at COP26. Further signatories were also secured to the UK-driven 30by30 target, which aims to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030. The UK also highlighted its work on blue carbon research – habitats and species that can naturally fix and store atmospheric carbon and help to mitigate climate change emissions – including a new cross-Administration Blue Carbon Partnership and newly published guidance on restoring seagrass, saltmarsh and intertidal sediment habitats. Crucially, Scotland are a few steps ahead on blue carbon research partnerships, having already established the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum in 2018, which hosted a productive “Blue Carbon: Beyond the Inventory” conference on 11-12th November. At this event Mairi Gougeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands announced a new Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge, which will give funding for up to five blue carbon projects in 2022 with the aim of translating research findings into action on the ground and encouraging new partnerships with other countries.

We have reviewed the UK’s COP26 commitments against what we think is needed to recover our seas, as described in our Ocean Recovery Plan.


Ask 1: Create legally binding targets for ocean recovery


Targets at COP26 have been predominantly based on reducing emissions, relevant for both marine industries and nature conservation as we’ll discuss under the following asks. LINK member Marine Conservation Society co-hosted an ocean event in the Water Pavilion at which UN Climate Envoy Peter Thomson implored ocean action to be included. A crucial outcome for this COP26 was that for the first time the ocean is to be “anchored” permanently in the multilateral climate change regime. For the first time, ocean action is formally recognised as climate action.

Find out why legally binding targets for nature recovery are so important:


Ask 2: Strengthen the MPA network for ocean recovery [2]


No numerical targets were announced at COP26, but this was not expected as the focus for this will be the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Kunming, China April/May 2022. However, the Glasgow Climate Pact crucially now recognises “the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including in forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, and the protection of biodiversity […]”. Again, this is an important step in recognising the crucial role that the recovery of nature on land and in the ocean has to help meet emission reductions targets. In short, we need to turn the carbon tap off and increase the capacity of nature’s sponge to help absorb the historic excess. Recovering the health of the ocean is therefore crucial and Marine Protected Areas have an important role to play.

The UK Government has led internationally on the ‘30by30’ initiative to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, to which there are now over 100 signatories. The Scottish Government has also recently committed to creating highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in 10% of Scotland’s seas by 2026, four years ahead of the EU target, which would lead the way in UK and Europe for this stricter subset of protection if met. These new HPMAs should be akin to the IUCN definition of fully protected, allowing no extractive or damaging activities to operate within them. These areas should prioritise the recovery of damaged and modified areas across all inshore and offshore habitats and include protection of blue carbon habitats and species, both to prevent damage and the release of carbon already stored, and to enable increase of blue carbon habitats and species.

The 30by30 target sounds good but is misleading without the detail of actual protection. Designating MPAs does not provide enough protection without fisheries management measures in particular also enshrined in law.  Both the UK and Scottish Government already claim to have exceeded the 30% target domestically, but most remain “paper parks” requiring urgent protection from the most damaging activities. With the UK and Scottish Governments talking the talk on 30by30, the pressure is on to ensure the reality matches the rhetoric. The COP15 UN Biodiversity Conference next year is another crucial staging post.


Ask 3: Reform fisheries for resilience


There were no specific targets on fisheries at COP26. However, some of the agricultural reform commitments pertain to food systems in general, which should arguably support fisheries and aquaculture. The Glasgow pact requires relevant parties “to consider how to integrate and strengthen ocean-based action in their existing mandates and work plans and to report on these activities within the existing reporting processes” As the signatory party, the UK Government commitment to reduce carbon emissions and decarbonise industries must therefore include commercial fishing and the protection and recovery of blue carbon. The largest UK supermarkets in partnership with WWF have committed to reducing the environmental impact of UK groceries by 2030, with marine included as one of the 7 focus areas.

Damaging fishing methods, such as bottom trawling, have recently been estimated to release over a gigaton of carbon stored in seabed sediments into the water column every year, although the full pathways and extent of release into the atmosphere are still being explored [3]. Furthermore, carbon is cycled and transported to deeper waters by fish, so unsustainable fishing also results in a loss of carbon storage. Leaving more fish (and their predators and prey) in the ocean and larger areas of seabed habitats and sediments undisturbed can potentially therefore make an important contribution toward long-term carbon storage and net zero emissions. Destructive fishing practices need to be phased out and commercial fisheries supported with the innovation and reform needed to be part of a more sustainable nature- and climate-smart food system.

Ask 4: Invest for our future


The UK Government committed around £7.5 million to various global ocean climate funds (see above).

 Climate finance for the oceans has been a part of ocean-related commitments at COP26, and investment has also been pledged for protection of nature on land as well as for improving sustainability in industries and reducing pollution. Domestic funding for conservation of UK seas remains thin. In Scotland, our Ocean Recovery Plan calls for an increase in public budget for marine conservation, development of innovative finance models and proper enforcement (e.g. issuing of appropriate fines) of environmental damage. Of course, investing in global climate action will benefit us all ultimately, but both the UK Government and Scottish Government must ensure sufficient investment within their respective areas of competence to achieve their contribution to reducing emissions.

It would be easy to say ‘time will tell’ whether the UK’s targets and pledges will be enough to save our seas and sufficiently reduce emissions to prevent warming to 1.5 – but that’s the thing, we don’t have the time! Action must be immediate and effective to ensure we meet that crucial figure.

Wider concerns remain as COP26 lacked stronger commitments to reduce emissions. The initial promise to phase out coal was diminished and changed in the COP agreement to “phase down”.  The promise of high-income nations to deliver US$100 bn in climate finance annually from 2020 has not been reached. Similarly, Nations failed to agree on the creation of a “loss and damage” fund. A recent paper discussing why COP26 should focus more on oceans outlines some simple and immediate steps that governments and marine managers can take, which correspond well with our four key Ocean Recovery Plan asks:

  1. Develop integrated policies to address climate and biodiversity across land, freshwater and oceans, and incorporate carbon storage objectives within MPA design and management;
  2. International-scale approach to protecting the ocean (at least 30% of our oceans must be protected, including areas outside national jurisdiction – the high seas);
  3. Reform the systems under which human activities that damage ocean ecosystems operate;
  4. Financing ocean protection and account for the value of blue carbon ecosystems to support and encourage investment.

The paper also highlights increasing global cooperation to work toward climate change goals and to improve our understanding of ocean processes and ecosystems and how changing conditions impact people in the most vulnerable areas. Here in Scotland our coastal areas have already changed so much and the effects of climate change are becoming ever more apparent. Scottish seas have some of the richest carbon storing habitats in the world, as well as diverse maritime industries with the potential to contribute more than they take, and with that comes a responsibility on government, industry and consumers alike to work towards the crucial common goal.



[1] International negotiations are a matter reserved to Westminster and the Scottish Government had no formal role in the negotiations. 

[2] Commit to at least 30% of Scotland’s seas being highly protected, at least a third of which are fully protected (therefore 10% of Scotland’s seas), from destructive and extractive activities by 2030.


COP26 Outcomes: What LINK Thinks

November 22nd, 2021 by

So CoP26 is over, the posters have been taken down, the seats stacked and the streets resumed their November demeanour. If CoP26 was our best last chance (UNFCC), what does the future look like now? 

We had high ambitions. But not unrealistic ones. We all went into CoP26 knowing that the world had to do much more to prevent ongoing loss and destruction of homes, businesses, countries and habitats from the effects of climate change. And we knew we had to act quickly because the impacts of climate change are already with us. We heard impassioned pleas from those already affected, in Africa, on Pacific islands, in the Arctic north and from teenagers and children around the world who are palpably angry at the inheritance they are going to receive and the lack of sufficient action to leave them a future planet worth living on. Was it all blah blah blah? We asked 7 people for their thoughts. 


Mike Robinson CEO of Royal Scottish Geographical Society told us: “With international commitments setting us on track for at least 2.4°C of warming, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with the outcome of the Glasgow COP26. But then, I have been disappointed by the outcome of every one of the previous 25 climate COPs too, so this may say more about expectations and the challenge of global diplomacy and negotiation than anything. Glasgow was another step on the long journey towards net zero and beyond.  

….we [now] need to stop blaming each other and start collaborating more than ever, because most of all we need to bring people together around this issue, to win the majority over to the changes we all need, and to demand that change, so our politicians have the political space (or are forced) to act. Because only then will a COP be able to secure the commitments we all want and need.”


Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland at Marine Conservation Society said: it is heartening that for the first time ever in a COP pact “ocean-based action” is “invited” to be strengthened to help in the fight against climate change.”

“I hoped that world leaders, negotiators, industry and civic society would listen to the ocean and put in place action and finance to restore and protect our ocean so it can continue to be a key ally in the fight against climate change.”


Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at Marine Conservation Society, volunteered at COP26 as a Glasgow City Council volunteer in the Green Zone as well as spreading the word of Marine Conservation Society’s #ListenToTheOcean campaign.

Along the river Stuart and our engagement team successfully brought the ocean into the heart of Glasgow on Youth and Ocean Day and were invited into youth hub of activity at ‘The Extreme Hangout.’ A powerful moment where Sea Goddess ‘Storm’ walked the streets of Govan was captured by our team where the local community came out to listen to this incredible voice of the Ocean.

Through engagement in the Blue and Green Zones and across Scotland we managed to connect with people and places across the Ocean. The Ocean was given a voice and it was heard, but will our calls for action be heeded?”

Storm meeting Little Amal in Govan, Glasgow

In terms of what’s next, Calum Duncan said: Reality must match rhetoric, in Scotland and across the globe. Me and my team will continue to do everything we can to push ocean recovery in Scotland, including ensuring blue carbon habitats help long-term carbon storage. The Glasgow Climate Pact fell just short, the window to secure national action globally to keep 1.5C alive is closing, rapidly, but it is not yet shut. Hope therefore remains alive, just.”

“Therefore, whoever you are and wherever you are please listen to the ocean and become a voice for Scottish Seas and hold those with the power and the money to account and to demand action at every level to save our seas, our climate, people and planet.”

Catherine Gemmell, Calum Duncan and members of the Marine Conservation Society team at COP26.


Lang Banks, Director of WWF Scotland said: “To put it bluntly, what has been pledged so far in Glasgow is not yet enough to prevent the world from warming more than 1.5oC – putting people and nature in peril.” 

Climate pledges are not the same climate action and it is clear the biggest gap lies in real action to cut emissions this decade. There’s no more time to waste, we need to see all those net zero commitments for far off in the future backed up by real and rapid cuts to emissions by 2030.” 


Rob Knott, Tamara Lumb and Amelia Hayward are Conservation Skills Interns at Forsinard Flows with RSPB Scotland. They are known as the ‘Bog babes’ and work to save Scotland’s bogs as well as educate others on why they should care about bogs too.

“It’s hard to look back on our expectations of COP26, knowing in the end how it turned out. Legislatively, we hoped COP26 would be a real turning point for climate actionAnd yet fossil fuel consumption has not been halted, loss and damage aid is less than we hoped and the goal of 1.5 degrees now likely sits beyond our reach. In this way, COP26 certainly did not achieve what we hoped. COP is only two weeks of every year, we now have another fifty to take the fight home, to build on our unity, and to keep fighting for climate justice.” 

The Bog babes’ hope for people to be united through calling for action for both nature and climate was prevalent throughout the conference: We hoped that COP26 would bring people together to discuss the issues and unite in the face of climate adversity. This, we feel, is where COP26 was successful. Attending COP was amazing and inspiring, not because of the delegates and politicians, but because of the raw passion, energy and determination of those raising their voices outside the debating halls. People really came together to discuss their concerns and worries and found solace, however small, in their shared eco-anxiety about the future of the planet.” 

Global Day of Action for Climate Justice March, 6th November (Nature day at COP26)

The Bog babes highlighted how positive it was to see nature addressed more during COP26 than in any previous climate conference:Solutions using nature were included along with firmer legislation to protect and restore vital ecosystems. The event also hosted the first ever Peatland Pavilion which showcased the vital role which peat has in carbon storage, whilst nature featured in numerous events across the conference.”  

“In short, it was uplifting to see nature at the forefront of COP26 and to see greater recognition of the interlinked nature and climate emergencies. However, nature must not be taken for granted – action for nature must coexist alongside phasing out fossil fuels, creating safeguards for nature, climate mitigation and providing loss and damage aid for countries worst affected by climate change. We cannot solve one crisis without the other. The proof, of course, lies in the year to come – let’s hope nature lies at the heart of COP27.” 

The Bog babes stated: “The Scottish government needs to listen to the science. During the early months of COVID-19, our governments kept telling us to listen to the science for it was, and remains, our best defence. And yet when it comes to the climate crisis, they remain woefully impassive to the insurmountable evidence before them.” 

“They need to put nature and climate issues before political discord and debate passionately with other governments to ensure collectively they are working in the best interests of the environment. Ultimately, they need to listen to the voices of those groups often left out of these discussions – indigenous people, the youth, the LGBTQIA+ community, BAME communities, disadvantaged communities and farmers – to name but a few. We are a stronger challenge to the nature and climate emergencies together, and it’s time they realised that.” 


Deborah Long, Chief Officer of LINK shared some concluding thoughts: 

We’re a bit nearer than we were to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5oC. The language is more urgent, alarms are truly ringing and the noise from civil society is showing governments that people  care deeply and that action is required against vested interests. But we are not moving fast enough.  And even where we do have commitments we need those to be acted upon so that next year when CoP comes back, it will be entirely feasible to close the gap between emissions now and limiting their impact to 1.5O C warming. This is where civil society is going to be so important over the next 12 months, by people continuing to be loud about what needs to be done. 

In Scotland specifically, the government can continue to show the leadership towards a more equal and environmentally healthy world, working with others across borders to achieve that and listening to the voices of the younger generations. Halting the exploitation of new reserves of finite resources will be key, involving local people in decision making around local resources including nature and enabling everyone to have access to a safe home, healthy food and thriving nature is where Scotland should now be showing the way. 


Many thanks to Mike Robinson, Calum Duncan, Catherine Gemmell, the Bog Babes (Rob Knott, Tamara Lumb, Amelia Hayward) and Lang Banks for their contributions to this blog. 


This blog concludes the LINK Thinks COP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who, over the two weeks of the climate conference, highlighted the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist. 

Goodbye to single-use plastic cutlery and plates

November 12th, 2021 by

Yesterday legislation[1] was laid in parliament which will see Scotland ban some of the most environmentally damaging single-use plastic items – those that are often seen on beaches and littered in our environment.  This ban will come into effect in July 2022 and covers single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, beverage stirrers and balloon sticks; and food containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene.  Importantly, exemptions apply to plastic straws for those who need them for independent living or medical purposes.  Scotland is the first UK Nation to ban these items and deserves credit for doing so.

Although a welcome step, we need to make sure that momentum is maintained and ambition increased.

There are additional single-use plastics that should be restricted or banned.  Other countries have commitments to ban, for example, plastic condiment sachets, wet wipes, confetti, tea bags, six-pack rings and take-out food containers[2].  The Scottish Government plans to ban further single-use plastic items – let’s make sure it includes all those which are either not needed at all or for which there are practicable reusable alternatives.

We also need to be mindful of unintended consequences and the overall goals – as well as addressing plastics that are littered, we need to reduce our overall consumption of plastics, especially those made of fossil fuels. Plastic is a major contributor to climate change and emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to keep temperature rise below 1.5° C[3].   Our over-use of raw materials in general also needs to be addressed.  The sheer quantity of resources extracted, processed and wasted has a massive impact on climate change and biodiversity loss[4] and Scotland’s material footprint is more than double sustainable levels[5].

With this in mind, we need to be wary of, and mitigate against, two possible consequences of the single-use plastic item ban.

First, the substitution of material in single-use items. Although single-use plastic is a particular problem due to the nature of plastic in the environment, single-use in general is wasteful.  Non-essential single-use items should be banned irrespective of material.

Second, in encouraging use of more durable alternatives, we need to make sure that such items are used enough times before they are discarded if they are to offer net benefit over single-use in terms of overall plastic consumption.  Consumer awareness campaigns are needed and it should be made easy for people to do the ‘right thing’ – for example, reusable cup deposit schemes[6] would both enable people to avoid single-use cups without having to carry a reusable cup around with them, and ensure that the cups are used again and again. 

The above is not to take away from the achievement of this week which we should celebrate as a significant step towards moving away from single-use.  However, it is only the beginning and more action is urgently needed.


Phoebe Cochrane, Scottish Environment LINK






[6] For example

Ten Thousand Years of Cities. Time to get them right.

November 11th, 2021 by

A blog by Professor James Curran MBE, Honorary Fellow of Scottish Environment LINK. 


To mark the COP26 Presidency Theme ‘Cities, regions and built environments’, James shares his vision of revitalised towns and cities which emphasise the health, social and cultural benefits of living in sustainable places which are connected to nature.


Patrick Geddes, the famous Scottish pioneering town planner (and biologist, by the way) said that “A city is more than a space in place, it is a drama in time”.  Cities, and towns, of course change continuously: they grow, expand, decline, and change their character.  In my Glasgow childhood I remember the tail-end of its industrial prowess.  The sky lighting up from blast furnaces, school trips to ship launches, the lines of newly-built railway engines at the North British loco works – all gone now.  At a conference just the other day, these memories came to mind in addressing a Just Transition in tackling climate change.  My home city has suffered a multi-generational legacy of social and health problems from its chaotic deindustrialisation.  We mustn’t let that happen again, as we reshape much of our lives, economy and institutions to address climate change, delivering both mitigation and adaptation.

When, these days, we think of a “city”, as likely as not we think of congestion, pollution, noise, and stress.  A recent (2020) Ipsos MORI opinion survey revealed that, in the UK, only 22% of people would prefer to live in a big city, and 40% think cities will become even less attractive in future.  With a Covid-inspired revolution in interconnectivity, we have an opportunity to rethink the city.  Some argue that cities are very efficient, more sustainable, and less environmentally damaging than dispersed rural communities.  They certainly provide more opportunities for social interaction and Geddes certainly recognised their important role in cultural evolution.

As cities, and city regions, start to adopt radical climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, can they assume new characters that emphasise the benefits and minimise the disbenefits of city living?  Can they become places that are better integrated with their biological and geographical context and that offer improved social functions – all as Geddes argued. I certainly believe so.

A Just Transition, adopted by Scottish Government as a new national mission, means a lot more than managing the shift of jobs from existing fossil-fuel to future renewable businesses.

It should mean building a comprehensive circular economy, modelled of course on bio-mimicry since Nature creates no waste.  The circular economy entails a redesign of products to allow for repair, upgrade, disassembly, recycling and re-use of components.  It will benefit from close co-location of synergistic businesses but, importantly, it will offer high job content, and community jobs.  It is an economic model based on renewable energy, and reducing global dependency, through providing much greater resilience to inevitably disrupted supply chains and availability of raw materials under the future impact of climate chaos.

A Just Transition should also involve addressing environmental injustices – the excess exposure of more deprived communities to poor air quality, degraded local environments, flooding, limited access to green space, and noise.

All available vacant/derelict land, again often associated with deprived communities, should be used for new multi-purpose green and blue spaces – providing paths and cycleways to connect to shops, schools, business hubs and public transport; to offer soakaways to reduce surface water, riverine and sewer flooding; to offer venues for cafes and play and sports; to offer trees for cooling and shade, as well as sequestering carbon.  Such spaces should encourage community orchards and market gardens, perhaps vertical farming, and also, if well designed, interconnecting green/blue corridors for revitalised nature.  Such spaces must be co-designed with communities, giving local people real ownership over their own environmental space – countering the lack of local empowerment which Sir Harry Burns has argued contributes strongly to the so-called “Glasgow Effect” of poor health and reduced life expectancy.

At smaller scale, there has been plenty of talk, but very limited action, on green roofs, green walls, and on the greening of individual streets – ideally combining with the creation of low traffic and low emission zones.

This vision only has a prospect of realisation with a revised structure of local governance.  The Scottish Government and CoSLA are both “… convinced that community, fiscal and functional empowerment in all communities and for all public services provides the route map to this future”. ( ).  The use of financial incentive, compulsory purchase, community right to buy, participatory budgeting ( ) and the Community Choice Fund could all unlock enormous potential.

This is a vision of revitalised towns and cities, hosting regenerative local businesses, delivering zero-carbon living, and continuing to thrive and prosper under increasing climate change impacts.  In particular, such remodelled towns and cities will emphasise the health, social and cultural benefits of living in sustainable places which are connected to nature.  They will actually realise the century-old dreams of Patrick Geddes.


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks CoP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who highlight the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist.

Driving the global transition to zero emission transport

November 10th, 2021 by

A blog by Malachy Clarke, Public Affairs Manager at Friends of the Earth Scotland

To mark the COP26 Presidency Theme ‘Transport’, Malachy highlights the importance of sustainable transport in tackling climate change.


Transport emissions are Scotland’s single largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for over 1/3rd of Scotland’s emissions. Road traffic makes up 69% of our transport emissions, 40% of which is private car use. In addition, air pollution from road transport leads to 2500 premature deaths in Scotland every year. Air pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities the most. Despite this, lower income communities are significantly less likely to drive. 97% of households with an annual income over £40,000 have at least one car. This compares to just 51% of households with an annual income of less than £6,000. There is no future where we meet our aims of limiting warming to 1.5c and continue business as usual in transport.

Many people view Electric Cars as the future of transport. Indeed, electric vehicles are an important part of reducing our climate change emissions and cutting local air pollution. But they are only part of the answer. If we replaced every petrol or diesel car with an electric one, congestion would be just as bad, we’d waste just as much space on car parking and roads, and people would still be killed in crashes. The production of electric vehicles and the degradation of electric vehicles tyres, brakes and internal machinery and the breakdown of the roads they drive on would continue to create particulate matter and continue to damage our health. This is not to mention the fact that electric vehicles will take a long time to phase into common usage. Banning the sale of new non-hybrid petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 is a welcome move but electric vehicles are expensive and charging points are not as prolific as they need to be. It would take a long time for electric cars to enter the secondary vehicle market and proliferate our streets in numbers anywhere close to those that would be needed to tackle the climate emergency. 

It is clear, the use of private cars must be reduced. Luckily, the Scottish Government agrees; and has committed to reducing car-km use by 20% by 2030. This is a mammoth task. One that requires the Scottish Government to buck a trend that has held true for 70 years as car usage has crept up and up. The only way to get people out of cars is to make public transport affordable (or ideally free), frequent and reliable. Without a robust public transport network we will be unable to remove our reliance on cars. 

When global delegates arrive in Glasgow in November they will find a city with little to no trains on a Sunday, a disorganised bus network and a severe lack of cycle infrastructure. While transport will be free for COP26 delegates, the rising costs of public transport will be borne by everyday citizens.  While this will make it easier for delegates to get around, and save them some money, it won’t truly reflect the state of public transport across the country. COP26 would have been an ideal time to roll out free public transport for all. An idea recommended by the Just Transition Commission, free public transport, is possible and has been trialed in cities across the world, Luxembourg recently began offering free public transport to its citizens.  Free transport for delegates but not for residents is not only unjust, it’s emblematic of the inequality embedded into our transport system. This must change if we are to move as many journeys as possible to public transport, walking and cycling, while modernising the transport fleet.

Bringing buses into public ownership and making them free at the point of use – like we do with health, education and other vital services – would be hugely significant in advancing our net zero aims. If we run our buses in the public interest, we can create a comprehensive network that takes cars off the road, reduces emissions and improves air quality. In October, there were promising announcements on cycle lanes in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We need every council to bring this level of ambition, to make sure that shorter journeys can be walked or cycled in comfort and safety. After all, safety concerns are consistently listed as the number one reason more people don’t cycle to work or school. The speed and volume of cars keeps potential cyclists off their bikes and forces them into their own motor vehicles or onto the pavement. By providing a robust, safe, comprehensive cycle network we can reduce the number of cars on the road and create a healthy safe environment for all.

Despite the punny title, we need to do the opposite of “drive” towards net-zero and instead ditch cars in favour of more sustainable, more active methods of transportation. COP26 should be the beginning of a transport revolution for Scotland. Free at the point of use travel with comprehensive, reliable transport networks run for passengers and the planet, not profit.


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks CoP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who highlight the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist.

Innovation from scientists: is it about building new bridges?

November 9th, 2021 by

A blog by Rob Brooker, Head of Ecological Sciences at the James Hutton Institute, and is also a member of the British Ecological Society, including its Scottish Policy Group.


To mark the COP26 Presidency Theme ‘Science and Innovation’, Rob explores how science can help to deliver innovative solutions that will contribute to meeting the challenging climate change targets that will come out of COP26.


One of the COP26 Presidency Themes for Tuesday 9th November[1] is Demonstrating that science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet, and accelerate, increased ambition. I read it several times before trying to write this blog. I’m still not completely clear what it means, but decided not to worry too much about the precise wording and to think instead about what I believe it’s trying to get at: can science help to deliver innovative solutions that will contribute to meeting the challenging climate change targets that will come out of COP26?

I can see that for some research fields – for example studies of fusion power – there may be sudden step changes in our knowledge and its application which generate a related step change in what’s possible in terms of climate change solutions. Looking at this from an ecologist’s perspective, although ongoing and planned research will deliver important new understanding about the links between climate change and nature, I don’t think we’re going to get a sudden shake up in our fundamental ecological knowledge. More radical innovation might come from what we do with that knowledge.

Importantly, COP26 coincides (roughly) with COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. COP15 is a key staging post for the CBD, coming at the end of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and the point at which we must assess how we’ve done in terms of delivering the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Unfortunately, as set out in an excellent new briefing from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe)[2], “All previous international targets for biodiversity have been missed and research shows that “urgent and transformative action” is required to halt the biodiversity crisis”.

One of the major challenges for delivering the Aichi targets, and for delivering many other nature conservation goals over the past decades, has been the perceived conflict between biodiversity conservation and the delivery of other policies, or the failure of other policy sectors (for example farming, energy generation, transport) to take biodiversity into account. The critical opportunity that the alignment of COP15 and COP26 brings is the chance to address the combined biodiversity and climate crises by making it clear that nature conservation can be (and must be) part of the solution to tackling the climate change crisis.

The case for this integrated approach is set out very clearly in a recent report by the British Ecological Society (BES) focussing on Nature Based Solutions for climate change in the UK[3]. As the report says “Nature-based solutions (NbS) address societal problems in ways that benefit both people and Nature” and there are many ways (as set out in the report) in which conserving and appropriately managing nature can help deliver both mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation to the impacts of climate change which we are already experiencing.

But as the BES report also makes clear, there are a range of challenges. Amongst these are some clear scientific knowledge gaps – for example challenges in assessing carbon sequestration across multiple habitats – which, unless addressed, will hamper the uptake of nature-based solutions to climate change. We also have challenges in terms of integrating across policy sectors, although the coincidence of COP15 for biodiversity and COP26 for climate change presents an unparalleled opportunity for integrated action. Finally, we need to understand better how to work with private finance and business to generate some of the investment needed to deliver appropriate NbS in the right place and at the right scale.

Organisations such as Scottish Environment LINK – working in partnership with bodies such as the BES – have played a really important role in helping ecologists to better understand and work with policy makers. I think it’s fair to say, though, that big business might not be something many ecologists understand or have historically wanted to get involved with, not least because of substantial negative impacts of some business sectors on the environment, and concerns about greenwashing[4], including in current discussions about the use of NbS. But in the run up to COP15 some businesses are making clear their recognition of the need for significant change to help deliver a healthy planet[5]. And rather than refuse to engage, I think it’s essential that scientists use the evidence we do have to explain why NbS are part of the solution – but not an alternative to emissions reductions – and why they need to be done in the right way and in the right place to achieve their full potential. It’s in this area of engaging with business where we’re going to need innovative thinking and action from scientists to realise the potential of these nature-based solutions to address the climate change and biodiversity crises.


[1] Presidency Programme – UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021 (

[2] Addressing the nature crisis: COP15 and the global post-2020 Biodiversity Framework | Scottish Parliament



[5] Halt destruction of nature or risk ‘dead planet’, leading businesses warn | Biodiversity | The Guardian


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks CoP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who highlight the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist.

Delivering Ocean Recovery to Achieve the COP26 Goals

November 8th, 2021 by

A blog by Fanny Royanez, LINK’S Marine Policy and Engagement Officer

To mark the COP26 Presidency Theme ‘Adaptation, loss and damage’, Fanny highlights how COP26 is unique opportunity for governments across the UK to champion the importance of ocean recovery to help tackle the climate crisis.


We live on Planet Ocean. Over 70% of the planetary surface, 97% of all water and 99% of the habitable space on our planet is ocean. Around half the oxygen we breathe, any maybe more, comes from oceanic phytoplankton[1], and marine habitats and ecosystems have a greater capacity to capture and store carbon than terrestrial ecosystems.

In recent years, the Scottish Government worked to establish Scotland as an environmental leader on the world stage, including through its Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction targets. With Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow 2021 (COP26), the global spotlight will be on Scotland. COP 26 has four main goals:

  1. Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  3. Mobilise finance
  4. Work together to deliver net-zero


As COP26 could be the world’s last best chance to address the intertwined climate and nature emergencies, now is a unique opportunity for all governments across the UK to champion the importance of ocean recovery to help tackle the climate crisis.


Ocean Recovery: A vital Step to Secure Net-Zero and Protect Communities and Natural Habitats

The ocean is central in regulating the Earth’s climate. It has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change and captures about 40% of human carbon emissions[2]. Yet, it is under pressure like never before, with many wildlife populations and habitats in a spiral of decline.

Scotland’s coast and seas are among the most productive in the world. They support an estimated 39,200 species of plants and animals, including valuable inshore and offshore fisheries and internationally important populations of basking sharks, seals, seabirds, whales and dolphins. They are also home to “blue carbon” habitats such as seagrass meadows, kelp forests, shellfish beds and maerl beds, which absorb and store atmospheric carbon dioxide or are a vital pathway to long-term storage.

To reach the COP26 goals of securing global net-zero by mid-century, and adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, our governments must act to restore marine ecosystems to health. Recent scientific research highlights that conservation of current environmental conditions is not enough and that ecosystem recovery should be placed at the core of political decision-making (Jones et al., 2020; Baskett & Barnett, 2015).  Protecting and enhancing blue carbon habitats would not only support the ocean’s capacity to mitigate climate change impacts but also benefit coastal communities, for example by enriching fish and shellfish breeding grounds creating a “spillover” effect and by providing more opportunities for low impact tourism. A well-managed MPA network and wider seas measures such as climate smart fishing and ecosystem-based marine planning that protect and recover blue carbon habitats are precious tools to help address the climate and nature emergencies.

With an MPA network covering 38% of its seas, Scotland is among the leading countries in the world by area of designation. However, most of the network awaits legal measures to be put in place to properly protect the MPAs from the most damaging industrial activities such as heavy bottom-towed fishing gear. The few protection measures that are in place in a handful of MPAs will not restore marine ecosystems at the scale we urgently need to address the climate and nature crises. In the MPA Guide, Grorud-Colver et al. (2021) indicate that only high levels of protection[3] can protect and enhance the marine environment. Protecting and restoring blue carbon habitats is essential to boost the ocean’s latent capacity to capture and store carbon, maximising its contribution to achieving the net-zero targets we desperately need. 

In our Ocean Recovery Plan, Scottish Environment LINK call for nature recovery targets for land and sea in law; for at least 30% of our seas to be highly protected by 2030 and for a third of which, so at least 10% of our seas, to be fully protected through the transformation of the MPA network. Ensuring at least 30% of our seas are highly and fully protected, is essential for Scotland, and all maritime countries, to meet net-zero and biodiversity targets. The Scottish Government/Scottish Green agreement to have at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas, where no fishing, aquaculture or development occur, is a welcome game-changer that must be implemented to lead the way within the UK and Europe.


Mobilising Finance to Deliver Ocean Recovery

COP26 is a crucial opportunity for our governments to mobilise finance to restore marine ecosystems and address the climate and nature emergencies. As our plan highlights, developing innovative finance models and scaling up investment to support ocean recovery and a just transition of activities operating in and around the sea are urgently needed to help reach net-zero and protect communities and natural habitats.[4]

Scottish Environment LINK calls for the Scottish Government to provide and incentivise investment in ocean recovery and sustainability to match the scale of the nature and climate emergencies[5]. Scotland has a real opportunity to lead by example at COP 26, by committing to invest in proactive ocean restoration, including of blue carbon habitats such as seagrass and native oyster beds, and to support other nature-based solutions vital to help reverse the climate and ocean emergencies.


Working Together to Deliver Ocean Recovery

Industries operating in and around the marine environment play a key role in tackling the climate and nature crises. Transformational change in how we manage human activities at and around the sea is vital to drive ocean recovery at scale. Reducing anthropogenic pressures on the marine environment is crucial to ensure our seas continue to provide benefits for biodiversity, food and climate regulation.

Scottish Environment LINK’s Ocean Recovery plan advocates for a just transition to nature and climate positive, spatially managed fisheries, with policies and legislation introduced where necessary[6]. The Scottish Government published a Future Fisheries Management strategy last year, including intention to protect vulnerable spawning and juvenile fishing grounds, and the recent Scottish Government/Scottish Greens agreement included a welcome policy to cap and reduce inshore fisheries effort and deliver the remaining fisheries management measures for Scotland’s MPA network by 2024. Following exit from the European Union, the Fisheries Act 2020 must also be seized as an opportunity to help transform fisheries management. It includes legal objectives on climate change, sustainability and the ecosystem, requirements to publish a Joint Fisheries Statement and Fisheries Management Plans, and provisions for the distribution of allocated quota and maintaining or restoring fish stocks. All UK Fisheries Administrations, including the Scottish Government, aim to publish the Joint Fisheries Statement by the end of 2022.  With roll-out of the Future Fisheries Management strategy and development of the JFS currently in progress, now is a pivotal moment to ensure that the industry contributes to net zero through the development of climate-smart fisheries[7].

Both the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (2019) [1,2] show, with rigorous scientific underpinning, that we are running out of time. We only have a decade to change our ways to limit climate temperature increase below 1.5 degrees and halt and then reverse the loss of nature on land and at sea. If the COP26 Parties are to deliver the Paris Agreement, now is the time for the ocean’s health and its vital contribution to climate change regulation and mitigation to be at the core of all considerations.

COP26 could be the world’s last best chance to tackle the climate emergency and reverse the damage caused by people to nature. This decade, Scotland must lead on the world stage, setting ambitious targets and actions to deliver the recovery our ocean so urgently needs.



[1] IPBES (2019), Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.5517154 Available on

[2] IPCC (2019), Climate Change and Land:  an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.  Available on

[3] Jones et al., (2020) Area Requirements to Safeguard Earth’s Marine Species, One Earth 2, 188–196 February 21, 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. 

[4] Baskett, M.L. & Barnett, L.A.K. (2015). The ecological and evolutionary consequences of marine reserves. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 46, 49-73. DOI  Available on



[2] p11

[3] High levels of protection here refers to

  • “Fully Protected Areas” = no extractive or destructive activities are allowed
  • “Highly Protected Areas” = only light extractive activities with low total impact are allowed.

[4] Ocean Recovery Plan

[5] Ocean Recovery Plan

[6] Ocean Recovery Plan

[7] Stephenson, S. and Johnson, A.F. (2021) Shifting gears: achieving climate smart fisheries. Published by WWF, RSPB and Marine Conservation Society. Available on


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks CoP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who highlight the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist.

Can Nature based solutions deliver the future we want?

November 6th, 2021 by

A blog by Deborah Long, LINK’S Chief Officer.

To mark the COP26 Presidency Theme ‘Nature’, Deborah highlights the role of nature based solutions in tackling climate change.



World population

Carbon in the atmosphere (parts per million)

Remaining wilderness


2 billion




4.3 billion




5.9 billion




7.8 billion




David Attenborough’s Witness Statement 2020.

Climate warming and biodiversity loss are gathering speed and impacting increasingly large areas of the world. While tackling climate emissions is crucial, doing this in isolation from action to halt the loss of biodiversity, to reconnect nature and restore damaged ecosystems is pointless. Addressing these issues together requires new approaches and the involvement of us all. We are going to need to adjust how we live, what our aspirations are if we are to avoid an increasingly unstable environment that is unable to support us. We need a new approach.

The recent Scottish government commitment to nature targets is extremely welcome. Targets will help drive action on nature loss now as well as on climate emissions. Once we know our target, it’s easier to map the direction towards it.

IPCC and IPBES (Joint workshop report June 2021) describe the future we want as a habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity and good quality of life for all. The question is, how do we get there, quickly?

Given the pressures of shrinking habitats, species loss, pollution, climate warming and over exploitation, the need for enhanced and well targeted conservation effort has never been more important. What’s more, the risk of loss though inaction or inattention is greater than ever before.

Part of our journey involves ‘nature based solutions’. As long as local and national communities work together, nature based solutions can produce local as well as global benefits, and avoid tipping points and negative feedback loops. Guarding against the co-option of nature based solutions as offsetting schemes, for example, is also required.

Nature based solutions can reduce the impact of climate change by making ecosystem more resilient to external changes. Higher genetic, species and ecosystem diversity makes ecosystems more resilient and able to maintain ecosystem services longer into the future.

Protected areas are one such solution: today, these represent the reserves of biodiversity we have left. But protecting a static and unconnected reserve, in the middle of a changing landscape, is no longer sufficient. Protected areas today need to function as part of the wider landscape and be part of the way we manage the surrounding land to build wider resilience. The area of intact and effectively protected areas on land and at sea is too small to meet the three objectives of the new future.

Nature networks, another nature based solution, are key to this by offering ecosystem resilience to change: linking together protected areas, providing routes though a landscape for species, including plants, fungi, insects, birds and mammals so they can move as conditions change.

Restoration is of course, another key nature based solution. Halting the loss and degradation of high carbon habitats including forests, peatlands, salt marshes and kelp forests all maintain biodiversity, and limit carbon loss. Halting the loss and restoring the extent of these habitats is a win win – it saves money, retains ecosystem services and is the start of networks that build future ecological resilience.

Investing in sustainable agricultural practices is another win win: supporting all farmers across Scotland to build carbon holding soil and habitats, build biodiversity levels to retain ecosystem services including pollination and flood management brings benefits of more stable and productive farmland to the farmer, benefits of stable landscapes to the local communities and benefits of locally produced, sustainable food to wider society.

These win wins are not just for Scotland’s rural communities. In our urban areas, greening initiatives including green roofs, urban trees, biodiversity rich parks and urban gardens reduce summer heat, break up winter wind and storms, provide pollinators to increase urban food productivity and provides an environment that supports better mental and physical health.

However, nature based solutions do not always provide a win win. Action on climate and biodiversity has impacts on nature, climate and communities: ignoring any of these impacts can create unintended consequences that may be difficult to resolve given the lower resilience levels we are now facing in an unstable natural world.

What this means is that tipping points can be easily reached, with extreme consequences for people, biodiversity and climate. For example, tree planting with species that sequester carbon with no regard for species diversity or habitat stability can increase the likelihood of soil loss or flooding. Conversely the rapid spread of changed behaviours and social norms can lead to positive tipping points. Examples include urban gardens, community owned renewable energy generation and local community involvement in creating and implementing plans that build local biodiversity. Engaging more people, with wider skills sets and perspectives holds the potential to build towards transformative change anyway.

Transformative change also needs levers that have the power to alter future trajectories: these include alternative visions of what a good quality of life is, rethinking what we consume and what we waste, rebuilding our relationship with nature, reducing inequalities and access to the fundamentals of life in terms of a healthy environment and productive work.

The demand for transformation at scale and at speed has never been higher. Nature based solutions, where used well, can help put society on a pathway to positive vision of good quality of life for all in harmony with nature: a future we want and need.


This blog is originally from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s magazine ‘The Geographer‘.


This blog is part of the LINK Thinks CoP26 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members, Honorary Fellows and invited guests who highlight the COP26 presidency programme with a nature-climate twist.