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30 Oct 2023

Trust welcomes announcement on carbon-linked land tax

Wild places charity the John Muir Trust today welcomed an announcement by the Scottish Government to explore options for councils to introduce a carbon land tax to encourage more action on climate and nature. 

Scottish Greens’ co-leader and Green Skills & Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater made the commitment at her party’s autumn conference in Dunfermline.

Restoring peatland at Glen Nevis 1

Ms Slater said the move should incentivise landowners to restore their degraded peatlands and create more woodland, both key tools in tackling the climate and nature crisis: “Nature based solutions to the climate crisis are essential if we are to meet our climate and nature commitments.”

The Scottish Government’s announcement coincides with the recent campaign led by the John Muir Trust, where 50 civil society organisations now support the charity’s proposal for a Carbon Emissions Land Tax (CELT) – one of the largest group of organisations to publicly back a climate action measure in Scotland.

The John Muir Trust has pioneered development of proposals for a CELT as an entirely new form of taxation designed to encourage landowners of Scotland’s largest estates to reduce carbon emissions.  The tax as envisaged by the Trust would not apply to ordinary homeowners, tenants or smaller business properties but focus solely on landholdings of 1,000 hectares and above – that is, areas covering the equivalent of 1,500 Hampden Parks or more.

Mike Daniels, Head of Policy for the Trust, said: “We are delighted by the announcement to explore ideas for a land tax linked to carbon emissions.  Our proposals for a CELT are not only innovative but well targeted and pragmatic, and this development shows how the idea is exciting politicians and policymakers of all stripes.” 

Mike went on: “Delivering on international commitments on the climate emergency requires bold action, and introducing CELT would be a significant step. Too much of Scotland’s land, especially in the mountains and uplands, neglects its huge potential to realise climate and biodiversity targets.  We applaud the Scottish Government’s intention to address this huge gap and build a cross-party political consensus for a carbon emissions land tax.

If the final legislation aligns with the John Muir Trust proposal, however, Mike does not see CELT as punitive: “Landowners can minimise their carbon emissions and potential land tax obligation through ecologically sound land management practices such as native tree planting, restoration of peatlands and a range of other initiatives.

Scottish Greens’ Environment spokesman Mark Ruskell echoed this point: “{This tax} builds on generous existing subsidies for landowners to restore peatland and reforest Scotland with further incentives to act.”

Under the Trust’s proposal local authorities would have power to introduce the tax at their own discretion, with all revenues retained by councils.  Councils could then elect to spend the money raised to foster biodiversity, protect nature, or reduce impacts on climate – like projects to extend concessionary public transport, cycling infrastructure, energy efficiency, and community nature restoration.

Public support for the idea is strong too.  Organisations including Oxfam, the STUC, the Scottish Community Alliance and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland are amongst many pressing for the introduction of CELT.  A recent YouGov poll also showed strong support for a carbon emissions tax on the biggest landholdings, with 64% of people in favour and only 14% opposed to the proposal.  Almost 80% of voters agreed landowners who produce polluting greenhouse gases should pay costs resulting from it.

The John Muir Trust has a public petition in support of the tax. You can add your signature here.

CELT campaign image

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