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.

4. Introduction

4.1 Aims and objectives

The Environment Strategy creates an overarching framework for Scotland’s policies on the environment and climate change. One of its key aims is to support a whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate and nature emergencies. The strategy was placed on a statutory basis by the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 ('the Continuity Act'), with Section 47 requiring Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish an environmental policy strategy.

The Scottish Government is taking a phased approach to developing the Environment Strategy. Its vision and outcomes were published in 2020, followed by an initial monitoring framework and website for tracking progress towards these outcomes, published in 2021. Progress reports to update the Scottish Parliament were published in March 2022 and 2023. The current and final phase is to develop ‘outcome pathways’, identifying actions and priorities across government for driving progress towards the strategy’s outcomes.

One Earth. One home. One shared future.

By 2045: By restoring nature and ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change, our country is transformed for the better – helping to secure the wellbeing of our people and planet for generations to come.

The strategy’s outcomes are designed to provide focus for the efforts of the Scottish Government and partners when working to deliver the vision, summarised above.

Three of the outcomes describe the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the environment, focusing on nature, climate change and sustainable resource-use:

  • Scotland’s nature is protected and restored with flourishing biodiversity and clean and healthy air, water, seas and soils.
  • We play our full role in tackling the global climate emergency and limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.
  • We use and re-use resources wisely and have ended the throw-away culture.

There are established policies and strategies in these areas - the Environment Strategy sets an overall framework for these and explores synergies between them.

The remaining three outcomes describe wider ambitions for Scotland’s economy, society and global citizenship – drawing out connections with wider government policies:

  • Our thriving, sustainable economy conserves and grows our natural assets.
  • Our healthy environment supports a fairer, healthier, more inclusive society.
  • We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint.

The Environment Strategy recognises that playing Scotland part in tackling the climate and nature emergencies will rely on transformative changes across Scotland’s economy and society, based on a just transition. In turn, this can help to achieve wider goals for the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s people and the resilience of our economy.

This report aims to support the development of the Environment Strategy by providing evidence to help inform the development of a ‘pathway’ for achieving the following outcome:

We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint.

This outcome focuses on the sustainability of Scotland’s consumption and production, in relation to the international environmental impacts associated with these activities. It is concerned specifically with Scotland’s impact on the natural environment in other countries, on which Scotland relies for raw resources and materials, including biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and associated loss of ecosystem services.

The objective of this report is to identify examples of international best practice in relation to policy levers for achieving a sustainable international footprint. The review was conducted by placing the policies within the context of land use, land use change and pollution. International best practice examples include those of how other countries are using different policy levers to reduce their international footprint, policy recommendations drawn from the international literature, and current projects in Scotland that highlight current good practices.

The report contributes to a wider project led by the Global Footprint Network, with contributions from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), which aims to measure Scotland’s current international environmental footprint and provide recommendations on policy levers to drive progress towards delivering the outcome “We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint”.

4.2 Context – transboundary spillovers

Existing supply chains in current globalised economies highlight the reliance of countries such as the UK on land, resources (Hawker et al., 2020) and people beyond national boundaries, with a particular negative effect on the Global South. According to a JNCC report (Hawker et al., 2020), half of the food consumed in the UK was produced domestically, with 30% imported from the EU and the remaining 20% from other nations. Such a dependence on global supply chains for everyday life should lead to reflections on the consequences (spillovers) that consumption has on the land being used for the food being consumed, and on the conditions in which farmers, workers and communities produce it.

Scotland’s resource-use in context:

  • Scotland’s per capita material footprint is 21.7 tonnes per year (117.8 million tonnes in total), nearly double the global average of 11.9 tonnes, almost three times what’s considered a sustainable level.
  • Scotland extracts 22.8 tonnes of material per person per year within our borders, 60% of which comes from fossil fuels. The UK average is 5.5.
  • Over 98% of Scotland’s material use stems from virgin sources.
  • Only 1.3% of the resources Scotland uses are cycled back into the economy after use.
  • The average person in Scotland is responsible for 13.8 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year – one-third more than the average UK resident, with a carbon footprint of 10.3 tonnes per capita.

Source: CGR Scotland (

There is an increasing academic and policy interest in understanding the interconnected social, economic and environmental consequences of supply chains (see Benzie et al., 2016; Mahmood 2022, Dzebo & Adams, 2022; OECD/EC-JRC 2021; Hawker et al., 2020; ECLAC/ILO 2016), as well as a range of approaches to measuring impacts across supply chains and across international borders.

The Centre for Global Commons (Ishii et al., 2022) framework argues that Earth’s systems are the “foundation of human development and prosperity”, and therefore they constitute the “Global Commons”. Built under the notion of the Anthropocene, when humans have become a force of nature capable of influencing the earth’s natural changes (Latour, 2014; Allen et al., 2018), the argument is that when the global commons do not operate in a stable manner, they increase the likelihood of threats including forced migration and conflict. This destabilisation of ecosystems has been enhanced by a linear economic model in which consumption is completely detached from the “externalities” it has caused. Therefore, final consumers are disengaged from how their goods and services were produced, including farming, manufacturing and the provision of services.

The Centre for Global Commons (at the University of Tokyo) published the Global Commons Stewardship Index in 2021, which measured the environmental consequences, both internal and international, of consumption in 100 countries. The results showed that while the UK pollutes very little through aerosols (SO2, NOx, Black Carbon) within its borders, it is one of the biggest emitters worldwide when the measure considered is of the amount of aerosols emitted during the production of goods for the UK market.

Figure 1 . UK domestic and spillover effects of trade by environmental issue (pillar) (source: Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) et al., 2021:266)

Figure 1 shows an analysis of the UK’s domestic and spillover pollution for multiple issues, presenting the level of impact on global commons, and their trajectories over a 5 year average annual growth rate.

The prosperity of rich countries is often associated with the burden of unsustainable practices in developing countries. For example, while trade is an important source of income, the production of goods destined for richer nations can often lead to pollution of communities around manufacturing plants, drive deforestation, reduce soil fertility and be done under poor labour conditions. Therefore, the consumption of goods in Scotland can have consequences elsewhere (Ishii et al., 2022).

For a wellbeing economy, Scotland requires to ensure that those places and people making its lifestyle possible also enjoy an appropriate level of wellbeing. That includes understanding and tackling spillover impacts covering the environment, and social and economic rights.



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