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The role of Scotland’s National Parks in the journey to Net Zero

By Gordon Watson, Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

With Scotland’s Climate Week underway, and COP27 fast approaching, the need for urgent action on climate change is rightly back at the top of the news agenda.

As one of the first nations to declare a global climate emergency in April 2019 Scotland set an ambitious target to become ‘Net Zero’ by 2045.

The critical role for National Parks in that journey to Net Zero and to reverse the decline in nature was laid out in a joint statement with other protected landscape organisations around the world during COP26.

This initiative, led by our Convener James Stuart, helped secure a strong international commitment from many of the protected landscapes that make up 30% of the world’s land mass, to make tackling climate change and biodiversity loss their top priority. It also brought attention to the critical role many of our landscapes can play to become net absorbers of carbon while restoring nature.

Here in Scotland’s first National Park, this is embedded in everything we do.  We have committed to reach Net Zero as an organisation by 2030 and see this as an important step towards setting ambitions for the whole National Park to become Net Zero as a place.

The fact is, the impacts of climate change are being seen and felt by those who live, work and visit here – increased flooding and road closures due to landslides being the most obvious examples.

However, the National Park is also an ideal carbon capture landscape and the perfect place to take forward the innovation and scale of investment required to make a real difference in tackling climate change and reversing biodiversity loss.

Nature-based solutions such as peatland restoration and woodland expansion are important ways in which National Parks are playing their part.

Around 36 per cent (68,000ha) of land here is covered by peatland but much of it is degraded, emitting carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

So there’s a big job to be done in restoring peatlands so they soak up carbon and deliver other benefits such as storing water and creating healthier habitats for nature. Additional resources made available for peatland restoration in recent years mean we have been able to ramp up this activity.

Woodland expansion is also key – giving us more trees and more woodland soils – both of which trap and store carbon.  We are working with land managers and partners such as Scottish Forestry colleagues to make this happen.

Many of the changes and solutions we are driving forward can also mitigate impacts on communities and businesses.

Restored peatland soaks up rainfall, slowing down water runoff that causes flooding.  Investing in sustainable transport and active travel benefits people living, working and visiting here and through our planning processes we can promote more sustainable, energy efficient development.

The challenge is significant but with investment and collaboration, we can restore and improve the natural resources we have in our National Parks and across rural Scotland – for climate, for nature and for communities impacted by climate change both here and across the world.

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