When Scotland declared a climate emergency, something changed. People suddenly stopped and took notice, realising that it had become more than a buzz phrase.
The implications of how we run our affairs as a nation were suddenly thrust out into the open with the clear message – start adapting and building for our climate futures before legislation is brought in to enforce it for us.
Of course, that brings challenges and people questioned how we could adapt. Some said it would be impossible, others said budgets needed to be spent on more pressing things, or that the change of pace was undeliverable.
Then came COVID-19 and its appalling wave of tragedy. Overnight everything we knew, everything we did, all that we were used to has ceased to be. Change is no longer impossible, budgets have been found, speed has been of the essence and yes, we have had to adapt.
In a post on philanthropist Bill Gates blog GatesNotes he predicts that deaths by climate change could equal or even surpass that of COVID-19 within a generation. Scientists tell us the Earth’s tipping point is but a few degrees away.
So we have to act. Proclamations like declaring the climate emergency have spurred some into action, including Scottish Councils, who have set out their stalls for responsible environmental stewardship and action.
But when faced by the immediacy of a post pandemic world and the challenges on budgets and on strategies that brings, it would be all too easy to push the environment back down the agenda again at the very moment we need to do the opposite and accelerate our plans.
It is why Kaitiaki Consulting was motivated to send a submission to the Scottish Parliament Local Government & Communities Committee about The Impact of COVID-19 on the financial sustainability of local government in Scotland.
In it we state:
“Local government cannot afford to ignore the environment in a post-pandemic world. No-one doubts it would be easy for councils to become distracted by immediate health, education and public service challenges at the expense of longer-term aims. But widespread, native tree-planting can benefit all of those objectives and more, and should very much be at the forefront of the minds of decision makers going forward, local and nationally.”
You can read the full text we submitted below and encourage people to spread it widely to ensure that amid a fog of uncertainty, the urgent need for action on our environment is not lost.
Local Government & Communities Committee
The impact of COVID-19 on the financial sustainability of local government in Scotland
Kaitiaki Consulting Ltd
Kaitiaki Consulting is a Scotland-based company which aims to plant one billion trees across the country.
Named after the Maori term for guardian of the environment, Kaitiaki Consulting wants Scotland to pursue a similar environmental agenda to New Zealand, where plans are in place to plant one billion trees by 2028.
Kaitiaki Consulting is in the process of speaking to all 32 local authorities to set out the benefits of creating forests in their towns, cities and rural areas, and highlighting the value of getting involved to businesses, charities, land owners and philanthropists. This process is being carried out by a new joint venture, The Centre for Strategic Climate Solutions.
Planting hundreds of millions of trees in Scotland would help achieve the country’s Net Zero target by 2045 and provide significant other environmental, ecological and community-related benefits.
Response to committee questions
4. What can the local government sector do, in the short and long-term, to manage the financial impact of the crisis? What positive examples can councils and others share about the good work done at local government and community level to lessen the crisis?
Local authorities across Scotland joined the Scottish Government in declaring a climate emergency, and have their own targets for reaching a “net zero” status within years. While Covid-19 has placed a strain on most areas, the duty to reduce emissions and improve the climate has not gone away. Investing in widespread, environmentally-sensitive, native tree-planting, even modestly, can have hugely positive consequences for towns, cities, villages and open spaces.
For example, if a city like Aberdeen were to plant five million trees, that would result in the sequestering of five billion tonnes of Co2 over the space for 40 or 50 years. If replicated across Scotland, the Scottish Government’s net zero target becomes very realistic indeed.
The European average for forest cover is 42 per cent. In Scotland it is currently just 18 per cent and the Scottish Government has an aspiration to increase this to 21% by 2032. We think Scotland’s ambitions are lacking in this area and a cross-Council programme of tree-planting and habitat restoration should be promoted.
The benefits of tree planting would go well beyond the environment. Kaitiaki Consulting’s vision is for this to be rolled out with the full co-operation and involvement of communities. The various projects, as well as restoring some of Scotland’s native flora and fauna, would create jobs, economic opportunities and areas for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Competition for public funds is high in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And while both governments and councils should appreciate their moral responsibility to fund measures to save and enhance the environment, they needn’t be solely responsible. Kaitiaki Consulting has a plan to reach out to businesses and other organisations who could themselves become carbon neutral by paying into a local authority “forest fund” which would plan, administer and execute the planting of trees in each area.
Local government cannot afford to ignore the environment in a post-pandemic world. No-one doubts it would be easy for councils to become distracted by immediate health, education and public service challenges at the expense of longer-term aims. But widespread, native tree-planting can benefit all of those objectives and more, and should very much be at the forefront of the minds of decision makers going forward, local and nationally.