A RANGE of community groups, trade unions, churches, charities, and businesses representing over a million members are calling for the introduction of a world-leading tax for greenhouse gas emissions on landholdings over 1000 hectares in Scotland.

The STUC, Scottish Community Alliance, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and the Quakers are among the groups calling for the Scottish Government to agree the principle of a new Carbon Emissions Land Tax.

Initiated by the John Muir Trust, which owns and manages some of Scotland’s most famous mountain landscapes, the tax proposal is designed as a lever to drive urgent changes in land use to support climate targets.

In order to comply with devolved powers, the proposed new tax would be collected by local authorities, generating tens of millions of pounds of additional funding for services in rural areas.

Scotland 'failing to pull its weight' sequestering carbon 

Mike Daniels, head of policy for the John Muir Trust, said a “polluters pay” principle was needed in order to quicken the pace of change in Scotland’s landscapes.

“Scotland has an abundance of low productivity land that is failing to pull its weight in the drive to net zero,” he said.

“Millions of hectares consist of degraded peatlands and bare, overgrazed uplands that are emitting greenhouse gases when they should be sequestering CO2 on a colossal scale.

“The Carbon Emissions Land Tax we are proposing is based on the polluters pay principle. Incentives are available to landowners for woodland creation and peatland restoration, but the slow pace of change shows that we need sticks as well as carrots.”

“The John Muir Trust has conducted serious research – including discussions with scientists, economists, and tax experts – to show how this could work in practice.

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“We are flexible, however, about the detail, and are seeking support at this stage around the general principle.”

The idea of a Carbon Emissions Land Tax was first presented to Scotland’s Climate Assembly in early 2021.

After learning about the idea the group – which was made up of 100 adults chosen as a representative sample of Scotland’s wider population – 81% were in favour of rolling out the tax.

How would it work? 

The John Muir Trust states that the tax would apply only to landholdings over 1000 hectares with an exemption in place for community-owned land.

This means that as well as covering private estates it would also apply to UK and Scottish Government agencies such as the Ministry of Defence and Forestry and Land Scotland.

Nature reserves and land held by NGOs such as the John Muir Trust itself would also be liable.

The charity has proposed plans for a banding system similar to energy efficiency ratings, which would allow landholdings to move into lower tax thresholds as they reduce the gap between their potential for carbon storage and their emissions.

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The Trust also wants the power to introduce the legislation to be left up to local authorities, with any revenues retained locally and ideally ring-fenced for specific actions related to reducing climate emissions – such as improving public transport infrastructure, making council houses more energy efficient or nature restoration projects.

Roz Foyer, the General Secretary of the STUC said: “Scotland has the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in the developed world. The STUC has a long history of campaigning for land reform, and in recent years has campaigned for a Just Transition that tackles climate change while creating jobs and reducing inequality.

“If we are to have a genuinely Just Transition for Scotland’s land tax and regulation will be crucial. The John Muir Trust’s Carbon Emissions Land Tax proposal could help raise much needed revenue for local Councils while simultaneously reducing emissions from Scotland’s land.”

Behavioural change needed to meet climate targets 

The chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Mike Robinson, added that if Scotland is to meet its 2030 climate change targets then tax powers must be utilised to drive behavioural change.

"Scotland has missed eight emission reduction targets out of the last twelve, and agriculture and land use is now the second highest emitting sector,” he said.

“If we are to have a chance of meeting our crucial 2030 climate targets it's vital that we use our tax and spending powers to make the biggest polluters pay, driving behaviour change and raising much needed additional funds to reduce emissions."

"Stop Climate Chaos Scotland urges the Scottish Government to rapidly explore all available levers, including a carbon emission land tax, and deliver a Just Transition to a low carbon, fairer society as quickly as possible."

The John Muir Trust has now launched a 100-day campaign, including a public petition in support of the tax.