New Community Land Scotland discussion paper calls for radical re-set of policy to effectively link green finance, land reform and a just transition to net zero


Community Land Scotland (CLS) has published Green finance, land reform and a just transition to net zero, written by Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive of Community Woodlands Association.

The paper is the third in CLS’s series of independent discussion papers on the overarching theme of land reform and the common good.  Previous papers in the series have focused on links between plantation slavery and land ownership in the west Highlands and Islands, and on scoping the classic effects of monopolies within concentrated patterns of rural land ownership.

The new paper makes an important contribution to the debate about the relationship between land reform and tackling the twin climate and biodiversity crises; particularly given growing concerns about the influence and impacts of so-called ‘green lairds’ who operate within Scotland’s unusually concentrated pattern of rural land ownership, overlaid by an almost entirely unregulated market in rural land.

‘Green finance, land reform and a just transition to net zero’ addresses these concerns within the broader context of new green landowners and provides a comprehensive analysis of existing green finance mechanisms and the scope for designing policy interventions to ensure that land use plays its full part in a just transition to net zero and community wealth building.

A central theme of the discussion paper – and the central proposition that it makes to Government – is that more can and should be done to ensure that land reform plays its full part in securing a just transition to net zero by reforming existing financial policy levers and aligning them with new legislative measures that promote land ownership and land use in support of the public interest.

In his paper, Jon Hollingdale argues that, to date, “interventions to tackle climate change have focused on providing additional incentives via green grants and developing mechanisms such as carbon credits to facilitate private investment.

However, he contends that “promoting increased flows of capital to land without reforming existing fiscal mechanisms only adds fuel to an overheated land market and will inevitably widen existing inequalities”.

The paper concludes that “past experience suggests that unregulated markets are unlikely to effectively deliver even the primary objective of tackling the climate and biodiversity crises and that a radical change of mind-set is needed to ensure that our land does contribute to its full potential, and that the transition to net zero builds community wealth and resilience.”

Ailsa Raeburn, Community Land Scotland’s Chair said: “This paper is an important and timely contribution to the policy debate on how reform of who owns Scotland’s land can play an effective role in a just transition to net zero. By looking again at ways in which green finance mechanisms are used for woodland planting, peatland restoration or sale of carbon credits, we can ensure genuinely sustainable land use that delivers both for local people and the climate and nature simultaneously”. 

Dr Calum MacLeod, Community Land Scotland’s Policy Director said: “The paper’s detailed analysis and recommendations should give the Scottish Government pause for policy thought.  It shows that green finance mechanisms need to be fit for purpose in terms of a just transition by making land use sustainable in ways that significantly benefit local communities.  The paper reinforces the need to ensure that Scotland’s rural land market, and land use more generally, serve the public interest by introducing statutory tests for that purpose.  The paper’s recommendations regarding the reform of subsidies and tax exemptions also merit further policy consideration on the Scottish Government’s part.”

Jon Hollingdale said: “The Scottish Government has legally binding commitments to achieve net zero, and to ensure a just transition to net zero, but Scotland’s largely unregulated land market and uniquely concentrated pattern of rural land ownership is buttressed by grants, subsidies and tax exemptions which drive up land prices and protect private wealth.”

For further information please contact:

Dr Calum MacLeod – Community Land Scotland
Mobile: 07974829149

Jon Hollingdale  – Community Woodlands Association
Mobile: 07907822544