By Alistair Grant

Scotland’s local authorities “cannot afford” to forget the climate emergency as they deal with the financial challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, it has been warned.

Council budgets are expected to be tighter than ever in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, placing pressure on public services across the board.

But MSPs scrutinising next year’s budget planning have been told the challenges posed by emissions “haven’t gone away”. 

Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee sought views on the financial sustainability of local government in Scotland following the coronavirus crisis.

In its response, Edinburgh-based conservation specialists Kaitiaki Consulting said if councils invest in native tree-planting then this can have a major positive economic benefit.

In written evidence, it said: “While Covid-19 has placed a strain on most areas, the duty to reduce emissions and improve the climate has not gone away. 

“Investing in widespread, environmentally-sensitive, native tree-planting, even modestly, can have hugely positive consequences for towns, cities, villages and open spaces.

“For example, if a city like Aberdeen were to plant five million trees, that would result in the sequestering of five billion tonnes of Co2 over the space for 40 or 50 years.

“If replicated across Scotland, the Scottish Government’s net zero target becomes very realistic indeed.”

Kaitiaki Consulting said just 18 per cent of Scotland is currently covered by woodland. The Scottish Government aims to increase this to 21% by 2032.

Its submission continued: “We think Scotland’s ambitions are lacking in this area and a cross-council programme of tree-planting and habitat restoration should be promoted.”

Alex Foulkes, managing director of Kaitiaki Consulting, said: “Widespread tree-planting across Scotland would bring a number of environmental and economic benefits.

“The Scottish Government and councils across the country have made clear there is a climate emergency.

“Despite the devastation of Covid-19, this emergency hasn’t gone away, and it will be more important than ever to get these decisions right going forward.

“Local government cannot afford to ignore the environment in a post-pandemic world.

“Councils face immediate challenges in health and social care and education, but the climate emergency must not become an after-thought.”

Kaitiaki Consulting is an environmental consultancy based in Scotland and New Zealand and works with businesses, organisations and communities to help them address climate change through habitat restoration and rewilding.

Earlier this year, it launched a “Billion Trees Scotland” re-forestation campaign, emulating New Zealand’s plan to plant one billion trees by 2028.

In its submission to MSPs, it said it is in the process of speaking to all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities to set out the benefits of creating forests in their towns, cities and rural areas, as well as highlighting the value of getting involved to businesses, charities, land owners and philanthropists.

It added: “No-one doubts it would be easy for councils to become distracted by immediate health, education and public service challenges at the expense of longer-term aims.

“But widespread, native tree-planting can benefit all of those objectives and more, and should very much be at the forefront of the minds of decision makers going forward, local and nationally.”

It told MSPs it “has a plan to reach out to businesses and other organisations who could themselves become carbon neutral by paying into a local authority ‘forest fund’ which would plan, administer and execute the planting of trees in each area”.