Scottish Socialist Party Develops Pioneering Land Reform Policy to Tackle the Climate Emergency
By Graeme Cullen
The global climate emergency is caused by reckless profiteering which disregards protections for workers and our natural environment. The Scottish Socialist Party is committed to supporting the environmental movement with real solutions to climate change that improve the lives of working people instead of punishing them for the emissions of corporations and wealthy landowners.
The radical transformation of our economy required will only happen if working people are mobilised behind key demands. SSP members agreed this expansive policy developed by our Climate Change Action Group as it meets advances workers interests. It will sit alongside Free Public Transport, public ownership of the energy industry and significant investment to increase and modernise housing stock, as policy proposals that are desperately needed at this critical time.
This policy outlines a democratic model of land ownership which will empower communities to restore and efficiently manage our rural landscapes. It could feed millions and save millions of lives by realigning our most basic need, food, with nature; we could end food poverty and climate poverty. This policy works towards a more just, fair and sustainable society for all.
What will the policy do?
The SSP will enact: “Democratic public and community ownership of Scotland’s vast landed estates and corporate farms in order that they can be managed in accordance to agro-ecological principles”. This will be used to address countless issues with Scotland’s environment and build a better society. We will democratise the land and use this to ecologically restore our environment to offset Green House Gas (GHG) emissions; feed the people of Scotland with locally grown, sustainable food so that no one has to live in food poverty.
At least 35% of rural land (2 million Hectares) will be ecologically restored and/or protected, increasing biodiversity and carbon sequestration (this would absorb the same as 39% of Scotland’s annual output of CO2e). This will require hundreds of thousands of well-paid and highly skilled ‘green’ jobs to implement and stimulate the economy further through tourism, reduced stress on services and rural economic diversification.
The SSP recognises that a plant-based diet halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution caused by food production and cuts the use of land by 76%. We will make fruit and vegetables for free for those who need it, ending food bank dependence. This transition will be supported by education and public awareness campaigns.
If we are to cut CO2e emissions sufficiently, we cannot just transport our animal agriculture (and it’s CO2e) abroad. We also need to take steps to make Scotland self-sufficient at meeting its food needs, a goal only achievable with steps outlined in this policy. Most farms will be encouraged to transition from animal-based agriculture to plant-based. Meat and animal agriculture will not disappear, people will eat less meat as it becomes expensive compared to plant based alternatives. There is a need for a small number of large intensive farms (probably around Aberdeen, the Borders and Fife to optimise land and workforce requirements). This will be supported by urban farming, where individuals and cooperatives will be provided with the means to grow their own food, on every space appropriate, which they will then keep.
A national zoning system will be implemented to ensure land is managed properly and these policies are enacted. These zones will be democratically managed by land management councils (LMCs) (participatory and decentralised where applicable, with a degree of central planning) made up of publicly employed game keepers and rangers, Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, local residents, farmers, unions, hunters and scientists (ecologists, zoologists, botanists, climate scientists etc.). LMCs will ensure a just transition for all workers in rural industries, embracing and utilising their knowledge and retraining where appropriate. Their aim is to restore Scotland’s ecosystems to a state where biodiversity is at a sustainable level, and CO2 is being sequestered at a rate that mitigates climate change, while providing a sustainable, free source of food for the people of Scotland and reconnecting people with nature.
Why do we need this?
Privately owned land is the basis of the capitalist system and its destruction of the environment. Land, the basis of all life on earth, is in the hands of the ruling class, who only have an eye for making as much money as possible in as little time as possible. This means nature is commodified and sold, undemocratically, at a rate which is unsustainable, as it is the most profitable action they can take. This has led to the minority threatening the lives of the majority; the 1% have destroyed, and are destroying, the ecological systems which regulate our planet and make it habitable. We may think that Scotland’s environment is different from say, the burning amazon, but unfortunately our rainforest was just destroyed long ago, by capitalists and feudal landlords, not much has changed.
Scotland’s land ownership can be described as practically feudal, with 1,125 landowners owning 70% of rural Scotland. This land is mainly used for sheep farming, deer hunting and unsustainable plantation forestry. Sheep and deer graze the land bare and prevent anything except from grasses and heather to grow, this creates low levels of biodiversity (see note 3) and carbon sequestration (see note 1). Without natural predators, deer populations grow unchecked; exacerbating the issue. This is all for the profit of the elite; sheep farming is subsidised through the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and we have a hunting system that relies on there being an overpopulation of deer.
Large commercial plantations owned by corporations are also dreadful for the environment; glyphosate (a herbicide that kills everything) is sprayed to prevent competition, a monoculture of coniferous trees shed acidic needles turning the soil and water courses acidic, and trees are planted in an unnatural pattern in straight rows close together, strangling life between them. This destructive practice produces in a high profit per hectare, but results in soil degradation, low biodiversity levels and leaves tree species vulnerable to pests and disease. Hence the saying plantations aren’t forests.
These practices, over generations, have left Scotland in a very poor ecological condition. This is because the power, over what the land is used for, has been in the hands of the wealthy elite, who have blindly followed profit at the expense of people and planet. But there is a way to change these destructive ways and make up for centuries of injustice.
Ecological Restoration through Land Reform
As stated above, it is already SSP policy to take these landed states into democratic public and community ownership, we would use this to restore our land, and use democracy to properly decide what the land should be used for.
We will fight for a national zoning system. Zones will be democratically managed by newly created Land Management Councils (LMCs). These would be participatory and decentralised where applicable, with a degree of central planning. They would consist of publicly employed game keepers/rangers, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), local communities, farmers, trade unions, hunters, Government representatives and scientists (ecologists, zoologists, botanists, climate scientists etc). These would democratically manage the use of the land in each zone, ensuring that environmental sustainability is achieved through just means and the needs of the people are met.
These councils would enforce the radical change in land use that is so desperately needed. The aim is to restore Scotland’s ecosystems to a state where biodiversity is at a sustainable level and CO2 is being sequestered (note 1) at a rate that mitigates climate change.
Examples of different zones:
- Zones of extensive ecological restoration with strictly protected and managed important habitats (e.g. peat bog and natural forests);
- Strictly managed zones where some predators are kept out to increase biodiversity. Game keepers and rangers will work as part of a national strategy and will be employed by the state;
- Some unmanaged (for the most part) zones where predators are encouraged and deer kept in check, human access may be restricted in some areas and encouraged in others (for environmental tourism, for example);
- Zones of sustainable forestry and agro-forestry that can provide the Scottish people with the goods and food they need while enhancing ecosystem services (see note 2);
- Zones where wind farms (and other renewable energy sources) can flourish alongside sustainable farming and other practices;
- Zones of large intensive plant based agriculture that provide free fruit and vegetables to the people of Scotland (which we will come to soon).
This would create thousands of jobs; the establishment and maintenance of biodiverse ecosystems is a very labour intensive task. This would include tree planting, invasive species control, seeding, fence erecting and infrastructure construction. Long term management will require more permanent positions with associated training and education; biological monitoring, ecosystem management, tourism jobs, and rangers, for example. A lot of the jobs and knowledge needed could come from nationalising environmental consultancies, rangers and gamekeepers, along with the existing Scottish National Heritage, SEPA and the use of local knowledge (which will all be utilised in the democratic system implemented (LMCs)). It is also an opportunity to create new skilled jobs, educating a new generation of environmental stewards, as well as well-paid “green collar labour”. This will also incorporate a just transition for all workers affected by the change; guaranteeing employment and working conditions. This would boost the Scottish economy and environment through democracy and justice.
Other positives to restoring our ecosystems include:
- Cleans air and water – reduces stress on our NHS and public water services, by increasing and enhancing important ecosystem services (note 2) on which we depend;
- Prevents flooding – Trees and vegetation, through interception and evapotranspiration, reduce the amount of water entering water courses and increase the time it takes for water to enter the water courses that are inhibited by human settlements. This reduces stress on public services and helps badly affected and flood prone areas (for example Dumfries and Aberdeenshire);
- Massive reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere – As has been mentioned, through sequestration (see note 1), plants can bring in massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (11), in all scenarios, this is necessary on a large scale to avoid global average temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius. See the calculations further down on how much this would reduce Scotland’s CO2e output by;
- Community involvement and enhancement – A community led approach (that is involving all affected stakeholders in the process) has been proved to work best for ecological enhancement and protection, whilst also providing social benefits. This will occur through our participatory LMC system;
- Reconnecting people and the environment – Marx wrote that private property is the basis of the alienation of humans from the environment. Through public ownership, providing people with beautiful natural national parks (for environmental tourism) and green jobs, people will be reconnected with nature. Spending time in natural environments has been scientifically proven to have mental health benefits (12);
- Sustainable Tourism – Paired with free public transport gives people a cheap and sustainable option to flying. This will stimulate and diversify Scotland’s rural economy; there are already 1 million trips a year to view wildlife in Scotland (15), if the wildlife is enhanced this number will only increase;
- Solves climate breakdown and ecological breakdown – we all know that we are in an age of mass extinction; bees, bugs, badgers, polar bears, you name it, it’s in danger. This natural climate solution has the added benefit of creating and increasing biodiversity (see note 3), which is currently at an all-time low globally (9).
This change in land use has the potential to be greatly beneficial to the people of Scotland and their environment. However, we also need to incorporate the need to provide people with a reliable, sustainable and affordable source of food in our land use considerations.
For farming to be sustainable in Scotland we need to do two things:
- Import and waste less food, i.e. become more independent and self-sufficient. This is because importing and wasting food produces a lot of greenhouse gases (13, 14). This needs to be achieved while simultaneously becoming food secure and ending food poverty;
- Move towards a plant-based system of food production and a plant-based diet (6). Meat consumption needs to fall by 90% (3) if we are to avoid climate change. We need some meat; dairy and beef cows farmed as there is a necessity for their products (e.g. pregnant women and babies need the protein and milk) and meat production should remain where workers demand it. But meat based farming produces a large amount of greenhouse gases in comparison to plant based farming, so a change in practice needs to occur.
Plant based food production requires a lot less land than animal based farming, this is because animals are inefficient at utilizing calories (losing a lot of energy to staying warm and moving) and require additional land to grow food for them (55% of cropping land -in other words, land that is ploughed and seeded- in the UK is used to grow feed for livestock, rather than food for humans (18)). This results in plant based farming being able to produce the same number of calories, protein and vitamins as animal based farming using 76% less land (2). Plant based farming also produces half the CO2e output of animal based farming. This is because plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere (See note 1) and animals take in oxygen and expel CO2 and other greenhouse gases (2).
Therefore, intensive (rather than extensive) plant based farming is a significantly better for the environment. This also depends on the land that is saved being turned into ecologically sound and biodiversity rich land (as mentioned above) (1, 4). It is therefore vital that our farming policy is linked with our ecological restoration through land reform policy.
The Scottish Socialist Farming Model
The Cuban farming system is a robust model to work from and apply a version of to Scotland:
- City farms grow 40-100% of their vegetables, there are free tools that can be attained (in a publicly owned tool shops or through tool shares), every spare space suitable is used for food production with the individuals and cooperatives keeping the food they produce;
- Large democratically run, publicly owned farms produce free fruit and vegetables to those who most need it (ending food bank use and combating food waste). Meat will not disappear, it can be purchased or given to those who require it.
Land management councils of zones where farming would occur would ensure a healthy and sustainable source of food for the people of Scotland. The specific make-up of the farming would therefore be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of Scotland’s population, especially as climate change and/or population requirements vary. What is definite is that sustainability along-side ending food poverty would be the main priorities. However below is a general model of how Scotland could feed itself sustainably:
Large publicly owned, plant based farms, using the most sustainable practice viable, will most likely be located around Aberdeen, the Borders and Fife as the land is suitable (as Scotland has mostly D class farmland). These will prove free fruit, cereals and vegetables to the people of Scotland (starting with those that most need it first, ending food poverty). Agriculture in west coast and northern crofting communities will be increasingly subsidised, as it is sustainable, high in biodiversity and underpins the culture of these areas.
This plan does rely on most of the population changing from an animal based to a plant based diet. This will be made possible through the provision of free fruit and vegetables and education through schools and public awareness campaigns. Animal farming will not totally disappear; livestock have an important role to play in increasing the biodiversity of grasslands and other habitats. However the focus of agricultural production will be plants, with a small amount of high quality ethically produced meat considered to be more of a luxury item. We cannot replace Scottish animal based products with imported products, this is environmental colonialism transferring our CO2 output to other countries. An equilibrium will be reached to ensure sustainability and justice for all.
Food waste can also be addressed through democratic planning. Food waste contributes to climate change as unused food decomposes, releasing greenhouse gases (14). It also underutilises a lot of food that could go to feeding people living in food poverty. Through state managed distribution, people would democratically input to the system their required food needs, which would be more that met (to ensure food security) efficiently to ensure as little waste occurs.
Unnecessary packaging is also a source of waste that is having a significant impact on the environment. Capitalism doesn’t have any incentive to create reusable products that last for as long as possible, because more profit can be made through cheap packaging that has to be purchases multiple times. This problem is currently being addressed through ‘zero waste’ shops, unfortunately too expensive for the majority of the working class and fail to address the corporations still continuing their destructive practices. This could be solved through re-usable containers provided by the state and minimal, sustainable packaging where necessary.
Plant based meat alternatives also already provide a substitute where demand for meat remains. This is an established and growing industry where products vary in environmental impact, cost, ingredients and healthiness. While we can’t predict what new innovations will arise we know that for meat substitutes to be used for the benefit of working people and the most sustainable methods and ingredients used. For this to happen democratic public ownership of all meat substitution industry in Scotland is a necessity.
As mentioned above, this all would incorporate a just transition for all workers affected; wages and conditions would be guaranteed and improved where possible. Workers and those affected by these changes would be involved in the democratic process so that these changes improve the conditions of working class people’s lives. This model of farming would significantly reduce Scotland’s CO2e output (as calculated below) and be used to end food poverty in Scotland; it is not the farming we want but the farming we need if the climate emergency is to be properly addressed and a fair system built.
These are the calculations that roughly determine how much CO2e would be saved if this policy was implemented and how much land it would require. These calculations are primarily based on data published by NGOs, scientists, charities and advocacy groups (see references).
This is the calculation on how much of the CO2 (and equivalent greenhouse gases) output of farming in Scotland would be reduced by implementing the changes proposed in this policy document.
- In Scotland “Just over half of the agricultural land comprised of rough grazing, with about a quarter taken up by grass” (5). This means that 4.275 million hectares (75% of 5.7 million hectares) is used for cattle (sheep and cow) farming.
- “A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution caused by food production” (2,3,4,6,7)
- This means that the protein (in the form of meat) currently being provided by 4.275 million hectares of land in Scotland, could be provided (in the form of plants) by 1.068 million hectares.
- This frees up 3.206 million hectares, at least 2 million hectares of which can be ecologically restored (as is calculated below), leaving 1.206 million hectares free for further food production or other uses.
- Agriculture and related land use in Scotland produces 9.7 MtCO2e annually (23.9% of Scotland’s output of GHGs), by switching to plant based food production this would be halved roughly to 5 MtCO2e (12% of Scotland’s GHG output). This would be more than offset (carbon neutral) by the land made available being used for ecological restoration (as proved below).
This is the calculation of how much land needs to be ecologically restored to sequester enough carbon (and equivalent greenhouse gases) to sufficiently mitigate climate change. This has been calculated using figures from the Scottish Government and Rewild Britain (a group advocating the ecological restoration of Britain).
- From the calculation above we now know we have 3.206 million hectares, with at least 2 million hectares of which can be ecologically restored (as mentioned above).
- ‘Rewild Britain’ (9) propose to create 2m hectares of new woodland and 2m hectares of species-rich meadows, (and ensure full protection of the UK’s 2m hectares of peat bogs and heaths, which we will come to). They have calculated that these new ecosystems (4 million hectares) would absorb and store carbon dioxide equivalent to 10% of the UK’s annual emissions.
- In 2018, UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were provisionally estimated to be 364.1 million tonnes (Mt), 10% of that being 36.41 Mt.CO2e (1 Megaton or metric megaton (unit of mass) is equal to 1,000,000 metric tons). Therefore (using Rewild Britain’s calculations and this number) 4 million hectares would sequester 36.41 Mt.CO2e.
- So ecologically restoring 4 million hectares (2m hectares of woodland and 2m hectares of species rich meadows) (70% of rural land in Scotland) would sequester 24 Mt. So, if we half ‘Rewild Britain’s’ numbers; 2 million hectares (35% of rural Scotland) would sequester 18.205 Mt.CO2e.
- In 2017 Scotland’s emissions were 46.410 MtCO2e. 18.205 (Mt.CO2e) is 39.226% of 46.410 (MtCO2e). Therefore ecologically restoring 2 Million Hectares (35% of rural Scotland) would sequester 39.226% of Scotland’s annual output.
- Scotland has about 60% of the UK’s peatlands (10). Scottish peats are estimated to hold around 1,620 Mt of Carbon. This is a huge amount of carbon and therefore the ecosystem needs to be protected
- If we ecologically restore and protect 35% of rural Scotland (2 million Hectares), we would absorb the same as 39% of Scotland’s annual output of CO2 (39% = 18.205 Mt CO2e).
Land reform is a contentious issue in politics, especially in Scotland. Land ownership in this country is practically feudal and the environmental and social ramifications continue to be disastrous. We are presented with an opportunity to fundamentally change an injustice within our society. We could end the undemocratic, unsustainable and corrosive use of Scotland’s environment occurring on landed estates and corporate farms right now. Through democratic public ownership of our land we could improve the lives of millions and significantly contribute to ending the ever important climate emergency at the same time. Democracy and ecology go hand in hand, without one you can’t have the other. This policy embodies these principles of the SSP and offers a realistic solution that works towards the SSP’s vision of an independent, sustainable, socialist Scotland.
1 – Carbon Sequestration is a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. In this context it is carried out by natural means; plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. This Carbon is turned into solid plant matter, eventually either being consumed or becoming soil. This stores the carbon in a solid form and prevents it from contributing to the greenhouse effect. Natural carbon sequestration occurs best in rich ecosystems that are biodiversity rich and are in equilibrium.
2 – Ecosystem services are the benefits that natural systems provide to humans. These include clean air, fresh water, climate regulation, minerals and pollination. These services are essential to human life. These work most efficiently in ecologically and biodiversity rich environments.
3 – Biodiversity is a term that refers to the number, variety and variability of living organisms in an area. High biodiversity indicates healthy ecosystems and usually means that there are many species of different kinds all living in equilibrium in a sustainable system (for example birds, mammals, rodents, flowers, trees, fish and bugs should all be present in a healthy Scottish glen).
1 – Monbiot (2019) Spectre at the Feast [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/08/13/spectre-at-the-feast/]
2 – Pimentel and Pimentel (2003) Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment [https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/660S/4690010]
3 – Hedenus, Wirsenius, Johansson (2014) The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1104-5)
4 –Searchinger, Wirsenius, Beringer, Dumas (2018) Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0757-z]
5 – Scottish Government (2017) AGRICULTURAL LAND USE IN SCOTLAND [https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries/agritopics/LandUseAll]
6 – Poore, Nemecek (2018) Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers [https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987]
7 – Monbiot (2018) Butchery of the Planet [https://www.monbiot.com/2018/06/13/butchery-of-the-planet/]
8 – Scottish Government (2017) Scottish greenhouse gas emissions 2017 [https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2017/pages/3/]
9 – Rewild Britain (2018) REWILDING AND CLIMATE BREAKDOWN: HOW RESTORING NATURE CAN HELP DECARBONISE THE UK [https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/assets/uploads/Rewilding%20and%20Climate%20Breakdown%20-%20a%20report%20by%20Rewilding%20Britain.pdf]
10 – Scottish Government (2012) SPICe Briefing Peatlands and Climate Change [http://www.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefingsAndFactsheets/S4/SB_12-28.pdf]
11 – Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2018) Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Celsius: Summary for Policy Makers. WMO. UNEP [Accessed Online Here: https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf]
12 – Mag et al. (2010) The Development of Green Care in Western European Countries [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1550830709003929]
13 – Wong (2016) UK’s carbon footprint from imported food revealed for first time [https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28727-uks-carbon-footprint-from-imported-food-revealed-for-first-time/]
14 – Bajzelj et al. (2014) Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation [https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2353]
15 – Scottish Government (2019) Tourism in Scotland: the economic contribution of the sector [https://www.gov.scot/publications/tourism-scotland-economic-contribution-sector/pages/5/]
16 – Science Direct (2019) Carbon Sequestration [https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/carbon-sequestration]
17 – Nijdam et al. (2012) The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306919212000942]
18 – Harwatt & Hayek (2019) Eating away at climate change with negative emissions: repurposing UK agricultural land to meet climate goals [https://animal.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/Eating-Away-at-Climate-Change-with-Negative-Emissions%E2%80%93%E2%80%93Harwatt-Hayek.pdf]