By Bill Heaney

Scottish Labour has today accused the SNP-Green government of using “dodgy data” to justify flawed plans to sell off Scotland’s natural assets.

Today in Holyrood Labour is leading a debate on the SNP-Green government’s controversial plans to rely on private corporations to finance their climate policy.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly claimed there is a £20 billion finance gap for nature in Scotland when attempting to justify its reliance on private finance – however, this figure has been widely panned by experts.

A comprehensive paper published by Community Land Scotland warns that the gap is “greatly exaggerated” and NatureScot have accepted that it “may be an over estimate”.

Under questioning from Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, Lorna Slater has been forced to pedal back on the significance of this figure by emphasising that it is just an estimate.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant and Lorna Slater (centre) on a recent visit to Loch Lomondside.

The Minister claimed “our policy commitment to mobilise responsible private investment in nature is not based on it in any way” – despite it being cited as the basis of their plans on multiple occasions.

Labour warned the SNP-Green government’s plans give big corporations a “free pass” to pollute with impunity by allowing them to stockpile carbon credits.

Scottish Labour Rural Economy spokesperson Rhoda Grant said “The SNP-Green government is relying on dodgy data to sell people on their flawed plans.

“With this key claim now in tatters, Ministers are furiously backpeddling to downplay its significance – but the fact remains their plans just don’t work.

“They are giving massive private corporations a free pass to pollute with impunity and driving up land prices in rural communities.

“We need a real plan to unlock Scotland’s potential as a climate world-leader based on facts – not the same old incompetence and spin from this SNP-Green government.”

Lorna Slater (Jan 2023): “The finance gap for nature in Scotland in the next decade has been estimated at about £20 billion. That is why we are working hard to find ways to bridge the finance gap, through leveraging responsible private finance.”

Mairi McAllan, pictured right,  (Feb 2023): “The finance gap for nature in Scotland for the next decade has been estimated to be £20 billion – that’s why we are working to find ways to bridge this finance gap through leveraging responsible private finance.”

Lorna Slater (March 2023): “The finance gap is £20 billion. There is absolutely no way that that can be fully funded from the public purse; that simply is not possible.”

Community Land Scotland: “the extent of any finance gap, at least in respect of woodland creation, is greatly exaggerated by the Green Finance Institute report”

NatureScot: “Land acquisition (the cost of which is reflected in the report from GFI) is not part of the model we are developing with our own investment partners. In that regard we agree that the £20bn figure may be an over estimate.”

Lorna Slater (September 2023): “It is helpful as an illustration of the scale of the challenge, but it is, as the authors themselves say, an estimate, and our policy commitment to mobilise responsible private investment in nature is not based on it in any way.”

Scottish Labour’s motion:  Protecting Scotland’s Nature

That the Parliament reaffirms its recognition of the climate emergency and the need to achieve a net zero future; recognises that Scotland has the potential for more carbon sequestration capacity by restoring peatlands and extending tree cover; regrets that the available budgets for woodland planting and peatland restoration are under-spent by significant margins, and that targets are not being met; notes that the Scottish Government has promoted the use of private green finance to fill a purported £20 billion gap in funding for nature in Scotland, but that this figure, published by the Green Finance Institute, has been called into question and is now recognised by NatureScot as an overestimate; regrets that there was a lack of due diligence carried out by the Scottish Government; agrees that investment in the climate transition is crucial, but believes that Scotland’s natural environment should not be allowed to be used for green-washing by private corporations, and calls on the Scottish Government to carry out a full and transparent consultation on the policy options and finance mechanisms available to advance Scotland’s capacity to sequestrate carbon.

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