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Assessing Scotland’s progress on the environmental agenda

AUTHORS: David Baldock – Jane Desbarats – Kaley Hart – Stephanie Newman

Commissioned by a group of Scottish NGOs, this new report investigates the extent of environmental progress made in Scotland focusing on the farmed environment, Marine Protected Areas, and climate mitigation. It finds that there are significant opportunities to give substance to Scotland’s growing aspirations as an environmental front runner in Europe.

On the whole, ambitions have been raised in recent years and climate policy in particular has a foundation of concrete targets for reduced emissions by given dates. These are fixed in the upper bracket of what other European governments have set at the present time, particularly regarding the renewable energy sector. Aspirations for the new Marine Protected Areas also represents a major step forward when they were announced and they are underpinned by principles which are in tune with ecological priorities. There are no explicit corresponding goals for raising ambitions in the farmed environment although the design of an integrated farm level approach to social, environmental and economic measures in the rural development framework is forward looking.

The assessment finds that in many cases there is a need to scale up the mechanisms in place to deliver these ambitions to the same extent. Common causes across the different policies preventing this scaling up include limitations on public expenditure, inadequate institutional capacity, and conflicts between socio-economic concerns and environmental ones.

  • For the farmed environment the report assesses agri-environment schemes, cross-compliance conditions on direct payments to farmers, implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive and Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) applications. Farm advice and scaling up action are among some of the issues raised as having the potential to deliver more for the environment if strengthened.
  • Despite establishing a robust and environmentally sound set of principles to guide the development of an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas in Scotland, the assessment concludes that these have not been entirely followed in the designation process. A few of the key issues leading to this disappointing outcome are conflicts between socio-economic considerations, existing spatial protection measures and resource constraints. 
  • Still in a relatively early stage of development, there has been encouraging progress in some areas of climate mitigation, particularly in relation to renewable energy where capacity has grown rapidly. However, there are considerable concerns about whether it will be possible to meet the ambitious mitigation targets for 2020 and 2030. Improvements could be made on ensuring action is taken at a larger scale, with particularly low uptake of some climate mitigation related initiatives in the housing and transport sectors.

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