Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): I welcome the chance to debate the position and significance of commercial forestry in Scotland. Many people throughout the country will not realise the significance of the industry, but the minister and others have set out its importance.
Forestry and wood processing provide thousands of jobs and are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the Scottish economy. The industry currently produces some 6.8 million tonnes of softwood round timber a year, which is forecast to rise to more than 8 million tonnes a year over the coming two decades. We are currently pretty good at sourcing material from indigenous sources: it is important that we maintain that, given the forecast rise in production. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the Government's commitment to increasing forest and woodland cover within 25 years. There are other reasons to welcome that commitment, to which I will return. As the industry grows and production increases, it is vital that we ensure that more raw materials for the forestry industry are secured by way of greater forest cover.
We should also note that more than 70 per cent of the softwood round timber that is sourced in Scotland is processed in Scotland. Although I welcome the fact that the remainder finds ready markets elsewhere, we should take pride in the large degree of self-sufficiency that exists in the Scottish industry. The fact that the vast majority of timber that is sourced in Scotland is processed in Scotland is good news for the Scottish economy and jobs. The fact that most of the timber stays within our borders to be processed here ensures environmental effectiveness by reducing transport emissions.
The environmental angle is important. Our forests and woodlands are important tools in mitigating the effects of climate change. Crucially, the industry itself recognises the importance of that. The Confederation of Forest Industries estimates that tree planting is now offsetting around 8 per cent of Scotland's carbon emissions. I accept that carbon-emissions offset is not in itself going to win the climate change battle, but it has an important part to play, so the Scottish Government's commitment to increasing forest cover within 20 years or so is important in that regard. The more trees that are planted, the greater will be the carbon-emissions offset. Increasing forest cover is good news not just for the industry but for the environment.
Increased forest cover is good for the physical environment and combating climate change, but it is also good for our aesthetic environment. Scottish Environment LINK has recently contacted members to set out the importance of Scotland's landscapes. It states that the value of good landscapes to local economies is shown in tourism surveys, which consistently reveal that scenery and landscape are a key reason for visiting Scotland. Ensuring better forest cover can go some way towards ensuring more attractive landscapes.
According to the Confederation of Forest Industries, Scotland has 17 per cent forest cover, which compares favourably with the UK figure of 11 per cent, but lags significantly behind the EU25 average of 36 per cent. At one stage, Scotland was almost entirely covered by forest. I am not suggesting that we will be able to roll back thousands of years of human activity, but the Government's important commitment to increasing forest cover will help to create more attractive landscapes in our country and therefore to assist tourism, which is an important part of the national economy in which, of course, forestry also plays a part.
I have not yet mentioned forestry's importance to biodiversity. Only two weeks ago in the debate on the biodiversity strategy, Parliament broadly agreed on the need to maintain Scotland's biodiversity. I think that, this morning, we broadly agree that our forests—and our forestry industry—can also play a role in that respect. As a result, I welcome the Labour amendment. My only hope is that, if and when the amendment is successful, Labour members will, unlike yesterday, not go into hiding when it comes to the vote on the substantive motion.
I congratulate the Government on securing this debate. Our forestry industry is pretty strong at the moment, but there is scope for growth. After all, the UK currently imports 90 per cent of its paper and much wood-based produce, and the value and cost of those imports amounts to £6 billion. There is no reason why, with continued growth, the Scottish industry cannot replace some of those imports and provide the necessary materials to make many of those products. I am sure that commercial forestry will continue to flourish in Scotland and that the Government's policy of increasing forest cover, which will bring us closer to the European Union average, will play a huge role.
I commend the motion to Parliament.