The Environment Strategy for Scotland: Reducing Scotland's International Environmental Impact - Learning from International Best Practices

This report supports the research project ‘Delivering the Environment Strategy Outcome on Scotland’s Global Footprint: Evidence Base and Policy Levers’. It summarises examples of international best practice in relation to policy levers for achieving a sustainable global footprint.

3. Executive Summary

This report details a brief review of policies to reduce the international environmental impact of Scotland’s consumption and production. The objective has been to develop insights from the international academic and grey literature, together with international examples of the use of policy levers, to help inform the Scottish Government’s Environment Strategy.

The Environment Strategy creates an overarching framework for Scotland’s policies on the environment and climate change. Its 2045 vision sets out the Scottish Government’s ambitions for restoring Scotland’s natural environment and playing Scotland’s full part in tackling the climate and nature emergencies. It recognises that this will rely on systemic economic and societal changes but that these, in turn, can help to transform Scotland for the better – for example, by improving people’s health and wellbeing, tackling inequalities, and supporting new opportunities for green jobs and businesses.

The strategy recognises that Scotland’s current demand on nature far exceeds its capacity to supply. Some of the commodities consumed are associated with damaging environmental impacts in the countries where they are produced, including deforestation, water stress and species overexploitation. In addition, the ways in which resources are used and disposed of also create environmental impacts far beyond Scotland’s borders. Reflecting this, one of the Environment Strategy’s six outcomes is that “We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint”. This report aims to support the evidence base to inform the development of a ‘pathway’ for achieving this outcome.

The report consists of two parts, the first takes a global perspective, the second reviews specific policy levers and examples of best practice for reducing Scotland’s international footprint.

Key messages:

  • Reducing consumption of resources can be considered as a ‘wicked problem’ being complex and multi-faceted, with competing interests and perspectives. It poses substantial dilemmas and contradictions within a global economic system that depends on consumption for growth and economic stability.
  • To bring the global environmental footprint within planetary boundaries, fundamental changes are required to overall consumption levels, for which the public, private, third sectors, and individuals all have roles to play.
  • Many specific policy levers on transboundary environmental impacts of global trade focus on reducing the impact of consumption, rather than consumption itself.
  • Public policies appear to have limited consideration of the difference between relative and absolute decoupling of economic activity from environmental impacts.
  • No single approach or policy lever will lead to a reduction in consumption and environmental footprint. Solutions will require a combination of levers, stakeholder and citizen engagement, and policy development processes and implementation mechanisms.
  • A number of policy levers have been proposed, tested or implemented with the aim of reducing impact of domestic production and consumption on natural environments overseas. Examples of these policy levers are summarised in Table Executive Summary 1 (ES 1).
  • Infrastructure for energy, both fossil fuel and renewable energy, creates opportunities for Scottish business economically and in demonstrating leadership in fields of global relevance.
  • Mandatory due diligence obligations on businesses can be designed to ensure that businesses mitigate environmental impacts through their supply chains and investments and publicly report their actions. In respect of international supply chain due diligence, to increase the legitimacy of demand-side regulatory actions there is a need for equal engagement with supplier country stakeholders.
  • Statutory target and monitoring frameworks provide opportunities for legally binding targets to signal emerging policy directions as well as mechanisms to drive legally enforceable behavioural change.
  • Changes in public procurement through mandatory regulation can impact directly on overall consumption. Green public procurement represents a policy instrument with potential to influence supply chains that sits outwith the domain of international trade.
  • It is essential to understand the power relationships and governance structures that influence policies that aim to reduce consumption: these are contested issues with multiple stakeholder interests.
  • Social justice and equality aspects require to be considered in developing policies that aim to reduce consumption. The Scottish Government Environment Strategy Outcome Pathway for achieving a sustainable international footprint is intrinsically linked to the outcome ‘Our healthy environment supports a fairer, healthier, more inclusive society’.
  • Most certification frameworks, such as ecolabels, focus on the environmental impacts of the production of goods (e.g. deforestation or biodiversity) but do not consider the social conditions under which they are produced (child labour, gender equality, unionisation). The Scottish Government should explore and support the establishment of a Sustainability Label where social and environmental information are provided to the consumer.
  • A carbon tax is a tool worthwhile exploring by the Scottish Government. The main barrier may be public acceptance of its suitability, and a limitation is in dealing with international supply chains and avoiding issues such as double-taxation.
  • As an international actor, Scottish policy and business have responsibilities to ensure that consumers have access to imported goods and services that were produced under ethical and sustainable conditions. This includes ensuring that fair wages have been paid, that the environment has been protected, and that farmers have access to long-term contracts.

Table ES 1. Specific policy levers for a sustainable global footprint

Regulatory Levers

  • International/ multi-lateral agreements
  • Mandatory due diligence obligations
  • Statutory targets
  • Mandatory public procurement requirements

Economic Levers

  • Taxation – border adjustment taxes, carbon taxes, commodity taxes
  • Sustainable commodity import guarantees

Infrastructure-based Levers

  • Reuse infrastructure
  • Reduce the consumption of raw materials infrastructure through circular practices

Information- based Levers

  • Certifications and eco-labelling
  • Capacity building



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