Voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) offer a means of offsetting carbon emissions, by funding projects that deliver equivalent carbon emissions reductions elsewhere. These are commonly natural capital “removal” offsets that sequester carbon, such as afforestation or peatland restoration project.

The sector is growing very quickly and the recent adoption of Article 6 at COP26 delivered a rulebook for carbon offsetting, which is likely to further accelerate this marketplace. Scotland has already seen major natural capital investments led by institutional investors, corporations and charitable trust, who are often referred to – albeit controversially - as “Green Lairds”. High profile examples include investments from BrewDog, Shell and Aviva. Despite its growing popularity, it is unclear whether VCM projects have provided Scottish communities with much direct benefit or control.

To address this, this project delivered a series of events between researchers and practitioners that explore how VCMs are impacting Scottish communities and how they could be re-designed to maximize place-based, community benefits. The project aimed to improve understanding of the:

  1. Distribution, scale and nature of current natural capital VCMs in Scotland;
  2. Impact natural capital VCMs are having on communities;
  3. Alternative VCM designs to deliver place-based community benefit and social justice;
  4. Routes to co-develop and implement new VCMs in partnership with communities; and
  5. Policy, legal and market conditions necessary for their adoption.

The project aimed to initiate an informed, evidence-based national discussion about how best to design and implement carbon offsets, in a way that supports a net-zero, Just Transition.


Programme Team

Prof. Matthew Hannon, Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde

Prof. Tavis Potts, University of Aberdeen

Dr. Claire Haggett, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Jennifer Roberts, University of Strathclyde

Malcolm Combe, University of Strathclyde

Prof. Roxanne Andersen, University of Highlands and Islands

Jamie Brogan, Edinburgh Climate Change Institute

Clare Wharmby, Edinburgh Climate Change Institute


Programme partners:

Dr. Peter Phillips, Head of Natural Capital Land Management Policy, Scottish Government

Katie Phair, Head of Just Transition Policy Unit, Climate Change Division, Scottish Government

Alan McDonnell, Programme Development Manager, Trees for Life

Jeremy Leggett, CEO, Bunloit Estate and Highlands Rewilding

Emma Cooper, Head of Land Rights and Responsibilities, Scottish Land Commission  

Sinclair Vincent, Director, Sustainable Development Innovations and Markets, Verra