A deal that could unlock £2 billion of investment in woodland has triggered fresh demands for an inquiry into the role of “green finance” in Scotland.
Land campaigner Andy Wightman said Holyrood must order an urgent probe into the devolved government’s support of “greenwashing” carbon offsetting schemes.
Businesses are increasingly seeking to compensate for their carbon emissions by funding “offsetting” initiatives elsewhere, such as tree planting.
But Mr Wightman insisted they would not help Scotland’s efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions.
The former Green MSP spoke out after Nature.Scot, previously known as Scottish Natural Heritage, announced a new partnership with UK private bank Hampden & Co, Lombard Odier Investment Managers and global firm Palladium.
They said that the deal could unlock £2bn of investment, creating about 185,000 hectares of native woodland and sequestering 28 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the next 30 years.
However, Mr Wightman argued that green finance cash was being offered by private investors because they can see returns primarily through further inflation of the land market, or through the sale of carbon credits for offsetting.
While those involved said the new deal would help Scotland reach its net zero targets, Mr Wightman disputed the claim.
“Scotland has got a finite capacity to absorb more carbon,” he said.
“We can restore woodlands and wetlands and peatlands and all the rest of it… I don’t know exactly how much we can do but there will be a finite limit.
“That finite limit then represents, let’s say a gigatonne of carbon being sequestered that’s not being sequestered now.
“Now that’s a good idea but if that gigatonne, or a big part of it, is being sold to offset emissions elsewhere in the UK or in the world, then that is not contributing to Scotland’s net zero goals.
“Because a ton of carbon offset is a ton of carbon that’s not being sequestered.”
Mr Wightman said he would be writing to Holyrood’s net zero committee to ask it to investigate the role of green finance in the economy.
Former Labour minister Peter Peacock also recently called for a similar probe.
Mr Wightman said: “I’m not sure the Scottish Government should be giving any legitimacy to offsetting.
“It’s widely problematic. There’s no internationally agreed protocols for it. It’s widely used by private business for greenwashing.”
The author also questioned the source of claims that £20bn of investment was needed in Scotland’s natural environment over the next decade.
Under the new “memorandum of understanding”, the first pilot scheme will begin this spring 2023 at the upper catchment of the River Tweed in southern Scotland.
An initial assessment has identified the potential for around 30,000 hectares of new native woodland.
Green minister Lorna Slater said: “Leveraging responsible private investment, through valuable partnerships like this, will be absolutely vital to meeting our climate targets and restoring our natural environment.
“Scotland is well placed to take a leading role by offering investors the opportunity to generate sustainable returns from the restoration and regeneration of our landscapes.
“This investment will generate multiple benefits: ending the loss of biodiversity, improving water quality, reducing the risk of flooding, regenerating local communities and creating green jobs.”