Two people in waterproof jackets (one red, one blue) smile at each other as they hold plants in clumps of soil on a flat grassy Scottish landscape with hills in the background.

Humanist Society interview series: Thomas Widrow of the John Muir Trust on why Scotland needs a Carbon Emissions Land Tax

August 29, 2023

Humanist Society Scotland is one of more than 30 organisations campaigning for a Carbon Emissions Land Tax. If you want to know why this is such a vital cause for the future of Scotland’s environment, read on. We spoke to Thomas Widrow, Campaigns Manager at the organisation spearheading the idea, the John Muir Trust.

Can you explain the idea of a carbon emissions land tax to readers who might not be familiar with it?

Most of our peatlands in Scotland are degraded and our woodlands unable to regenerate. For the benefit of sporting estates, our land has become depleted, scarred, and trampled on, emitting greenhouse gases when it should be a huge carbon sink, home to thriving and diverse habitats.

A Carbon Emissions Land Tax would change that by holding large estate owners responsible for the way they manage their land. Those who put their private interests above the public good will pay a tax for the damage they cause.

Why is this idea so well suited to Scotland?

We propose the tax is applied to landholdings over 1,000 hectares. That’s because in Scotland, 750 people control around 60% of the land. By targeting these large estates, we ensure both maximum impact on the ground and that the richest polluters contribute their fair share. It makes the tax both effective and progressive!

Scotland’s land has the potential to soak up the equivalent emissions of every single car in the country, plus some more. We cannot pass on this vital opportunity to reach net zero….By incentivising estates to switch to more diverse land use models the tax will also create new green jobs for rural communities.

Thomas Widrow, Campaigns Manager, John Muir Trust

Equally important, Scotland’s land has the potential to soak up the equivalent emissions of every single car in the country, plus some more. We cannot pass on this vital opportunity to reach net zero and fulfil nature restoration targets just because some large estate owners care more about their narrow private interest.

Do you think there is support for this idea? What additional benefits will it bring?

In early August we commissioned a poll from YouGov, asking Scottish people what they thought about a Carbon Emissions Land Tax. It revealed that 64% of Scots supported the introduction of a tax on large landowners based on the emissions created by their land-management processes.

By incentivising estates to switch to more diverse land use models the tax will also create new green jobs for rural communities. For example, compared to sporting estates, the John Muir Trust employs five times more people and invests 10 times more money per hectare. That’s what a Just Transition in wild places looks like.

Tell us about the John Muir Trust

The John Muir Trust was formed in 1983 to conserve and protect wild places so that nature, people and communities have the freedom to thrive. At the time, the Ministry of Defence was considering purchasing the Knoydart peninsula, which would have seen this remarkable landscape closed to the public, but the local community and the John Muir Trust campaigned to secure the future of the area. Forty years later, we care for 65,000 acres of wild places.

What practical steps can humanists in Scotland take to fight climate change?

Moral and ethical solutions to the climate and environmental crises must follow the principles of a Just Transition. That means supporting communities in the transition to more harmonious economic systems. Look out for and support campaigns that promote these solutions, like the Carbon Emissions Land Tax.

You can also help us by signing our petition by the end of September, calling on the Scottish Government to introduce the new tax. And if you are part of a community group, get them to back our call and join the 30+ coalitions and organisations who already support it.

[For more information email Thomas.Widrow@johnmuirtrust.org]

Support our campaign work, make a donation today

Our campaign work is funded by the generous support of our members and supporters. Support our campaign work and help to create a fairer Scotland and world.

Handwriting a letter

Join us!

Your membership will help to fund our campaign work to make Scotland a more secular, rational, and socially just country, and to ensure everyone in Scotland has access to humanist ceremonies to mark important life events.

Two people in a conference crowd laughing

Latest Related Stories

A winding road running down a steep mountain side in dramatic loops, with ragged rocks rising up to the right of the image and a beautiful cloudy sunset in the sky above. Infront of the sky text reads "Where Next?"

The year ahead for humanism in Scotland

The year ahead for humanism in Scotland
A humanist celebrant conducting a wedding ceremony for a couple, Andrew and Callum. The photo is taken mid-vows in front of flower wreaths and a large window looking out to fields. The celebrant wears a blue dress and raises a hand. The couple stand either side of her in magenta velvet suits.

The year in good news

The year in good news

Humanist Society interview series: Becky Kenton-Lake on Stop Climate Chaos Scotland’s new climate manifesto

Humanist Society interview series: Becky Kenton-Lake on Stop Climate Chaos Scotland’s new climate manifesto

In pictures: humanists march for climate justice at COP26

In pictures: humanists march for climate justice at COP26