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.

6. Findings Part 1: International policy perspectives on reducing international impacts of Scotland’s consumption and production

Part 1 of the findings of this review provides a high-level overview of policy approaches and perspectives relevant to how Scotland can reduce the international impacts of its consumption and production. Part 2 discusses specific policy levers identified in the literature, supported by international case studies of their implementation.

6.1 Reducing consumption versus reducing impacts of consumption

When considering policy mechanisms to reduce a country’s international footprint it is appropriate to distinguish between policies that focus on reducing the impacts of consumption and those that seek to reduce consumption in absolute terms. Many of the specific policy levers (see Part 2) highlighted in literature on transboundary environmental impacts of global trade focus on reducing impacts of consumption, for example through substitution of commodities associated with impacts such as deforestation with more sustainable alternatives. However, to be ‘responsible global citizens’ and bring Scotland’s and the world’s footprint within planetary boundaries, fundamental changes to overall consumption levels are required (Akenji et al., 2021; Jackson, 2009a, b).

The UK Government 25 Year Environment Plan published in 2018 (UK Government, 2018) sets out aspirations and plans to place “agriculture, forestry, land use and fishing that puts the environment first”, including the protection and improvement of the global environment. The Plan recognised a need to provide international leadership and to lead by example, leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment. It included a commitment to “to identify actions across supply chains that will improve the sustainability of food and forestry products and reduce deforestation”. In following-up this commitment, the UK Government launched the UK Global Resource Initiative (2020), an industry-led grouping set up to provide recommendations on “how the UK and international partners can increase trade in sustainable commodities and reduce the deforestation impact of UK supply chains.”

There is a consensus amongst climate change scholars, practitioners and activists of a need for systemic and transformational change to achieve the necessary level of reduction in emissions (IPCC, 2023; ICAT, 2020; Fanning et al., 2022). The Initiative for Climate Transparency defines transformational change as:

“A fundamental, sustained change of a system that disrupts established high-carbon practices and contributes to a zero-carbon society, in line with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5-2oC and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals” (ICAT, 2020:15).

This type of change can be distinguished from other approaches to change (i.e. incremental change and reform) which centre on adjusting aspects of the business-as-usual scenario, or reforming certain aspects of the system (e.g. imposing an environmental tax on a specific area of consumption), but that fail to fundamentally change the system as a whole.

There are significant contradictions between the aim of reducing consumption and operating within an economic system that is dependent on the growth of economic activity (driven by consumption) in order to maintain economic structural integrity under current dominant economic models (Walker et al., 2021). Reducing consumption per capita may not be sufficient alone if the environmental and social impact of the production process is not improved (Castleman, 1979). That is, reducing the ecological footprint of consumption is different from reducing consumption. There is a need to recognise that a drive for increased efficiency can result in a net overall increase in economic activity leading to greater resource use, which is a risk recognised by Jevons (1871), referred to as Jevons’ paradox.

Questions arise of social justice and equality as to how policies to reduce consumption might impact on those who would benefit from such an increase. For a large proportion of the global population there is a need to increase consumption, e.g. meat and eggs to improve the diet of citizens who are under-nourished; construction materials to improve housing conditions; clothing to enhance wellbeing (Bhar, 2023; Walker, 2012).

Individuals differ with respect to their perceptions of risk, lifestyle choices, understanding of needs for reducing consumption and the requirements for behaviour change. A challenge in designing approaches that rely on behavioural change is recognising that decisions of individuals which are based upon perceptions of risk are not necessarily rational or independent of topic. Individuals may auto-compensate by reducing consumption of one resource and justify additional consumption of another.

The rationale and approach to reducing consumption will vary depending on the conceptual ‘lens’ used to view the issues. There are multiple tools and concepts with which to assess and develop alternative economic models that have sustainability as their overall objective. Examples of these tools and concepts are Ecological Footprint and Biocapacity; Life Cycle Assessment; Societal Metabolism (e.g. Viglia, et al., 2017); Doughnut Economics (Raworth, 2012, 2017; DEAL, 2023); Planetary Boundaries (Rockström et al., 2009); and Prosperity Without Growth (Jackson, 2009a).

Organisations, institutions and businesses have different perspectives, motivations and levels of influence on discourses on issues relating to resource uses and their consequences on the environment, and mechanisms for driving or informing policy, including the timescales for changing consumption. The economic concept adopted for informing how to achieve the aim of reducing consumption is likely to comprise a combination of socio-cultural, economic and political backgrounds, developmental objectives and ideological perspective (i.e. capitalism, socialism, wellbeing based).

Countries, organisations and businesses which are transforming their approach to consumption (e.g. substituting inputs) have responsibilities towards countries that have developed a dependency on their roles within supply chains which cease or in which substitution removes those roles (e.g. Berger & Polack, 2019).

6.1.1 Relative and absolute decoupling

Relative and absolute decoupling is an important concept in respect of understanding the relationship between efforts to reduce consumption and the scale and intensity of resource use and whether a net reduction can be achieved.

Relative decoupling refers to a decline in the ecological intensity per unit of economic output, e.g. resource impacts decline relative to GDP as it grows.

Absolute decoupling refers to a situation in which resource impacts decline in absolute terms. Resource efficiencies must increase at least as fast as economic output does and ecological intensity (footprint) must continue to improve as the economy grows, if absolute decoupling is to occur (adapted from Jackson, 2009a, b).

Whilst relative decoupling implies doing more with less and being more efficient with the resources available, there is a risk that overall resource consumption can increase due to additional demand from a growing and more affluent society. Relative decoupling only really measures the resource use per unit of economic output and implies that resources are unlimited. For relative decoupling to cope with the problems of growth in population and affluence, resource efficiencies must increase at least as fast as economic output. However, perpetual economic growth under continuous growth in population and affluence, even if a comparable rate of relative decoupling is achieved, does not recognise the ecological limits of the Earth’s ecosystems.

To remain within the Earth’s ecosystems capacity (i.e. Planetary Boundaries, see Rockström et al., 2009), it is necessary to achieve absolute decoupling: a point of balance between resource availability and renewal and economic activity (often referred to as “living off nature’s interest rather than its capital”). With a growing population and increasing income, absolute decoupling will occur only when the rate of relative decoupling is greater than the rates of increase in population and income combined (adapted from Jackson, 2009a). Without recognising the need for absolute decoupling, there is a risk of encountering the ‘Jevons Paradox’, whereby greater efficiency in resource use leads to an overall net increase in resource use due to increases in demand from population and affluence growth.

A key finding from this review is that policies aiming for either reduced consumption and/or reduced environmental footprint are primarily focused through resource efficiencies and are hence limited to relative decoupling only.

6.1.2 Early examples of international consumption reduction strategies

UNEP Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP): This was an early, innovative, step by the United Nations Environment Programme to address some of the challenges for achieving sustainability. The SCP was focused upon decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyles. It took a holistic approach to systemic change and was built around three main objectives:

  • Decoupling environmental degradation from economic growth: ‘doing more and better with less’, increasing net welfare gains from economic activities by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing quality of life. ‘More’ is delivered in terms of goods and services, with ‘less’ impact in terms of resource use, environmental degradation, waste and pollution.
  • Applying life cycle thinking to increase the sustainable management of resources and achieving resource efficiency throughout both production and consumption phases of the lifecycle, including resource extraction, the production of intermediate inputs, distribution, marketing, use, waste disposal and re-use of products and services.
  • Seizing opportunities for developing countries to contribute to poverty eradication and the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals (superseded by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs). For developing countries, the SCP identified opportunities such as the creation of new markets, green and decent jobs as well as more efficient, welfare-generating natural resource management. It identified an opportunity to “leapfrog” to more resource efficient, environmentally sound and competitive technologies, bypassing the inefficient, polluting, and ultimately costly phases of development followed by most developed countries.

Whilst innovative, ambitious and successful in some of its goals, arguably the SCP failed to fully recognise the challenges of the differences between relative and absolute decoupling. However, it helped to embed the concepts of decoupling into mainstream thinking.

6.2 Sectoral policy approaches

This section covers examples of background issues and policy approaches. Its structure aligns with the consumption domains used by Global Footprint Network (GFN) with a particular focus on Food, Goods and Services. These domains are prioritized due to their direct impacts on natural environments overseas through international trade.

6.3 Focus area: food

Background: The role of human diet choices and consumption rates, energy used and how the food system operates has a substantial effect on health, land uses, habitat and biodiversity loss and GHG emissions. For example, globally the food system represents c. 34% of all GHG emissions (Crippa et al., 2021). The largest contribution came from agriculture and land use/land-use change activities (71%) with the remaining from supply chain activities: retail, transport, consumption, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging.

Tubiello et al. (2022), estimated that total GHG emissions from the food system were about 16 CO2eq yr−1 in 2018, approximately one-third of the global anthropogenic total. Importantly in respect of reducing consumption, three quarters of these emissions, 13 Gt CO2eq yr−1, were generated within the farm gate or in pre- and post-production activities, such as manufacturing, transport, processing, and waste disposal. The remainder of the emissions were generated through land use change at the boundaries of conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural land. Pre- and post-production emissions were proportionately more important in high-income than in low-income countries. Between 1990 and 2018, emissions from land use change across all countries decreased while pre- and post-production emissions increased. Tubiello et al. (2022) report results on a per capita basis, showing that world total food systems per capita emissions decreased during 1990–2018 from 2.9 to 2.2t CO2eq cap−1, with per capita emissions in 2018 in developed countries approximately twice those in low income countries.

Diet and land use: The EAT-Lancet report (Willett et al., 2019) highlights the imbalance in human diet and the need for reduced consumption of some food goods but increases in others: “Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits”.

The dichotomy of needing to reduce consumption of meat whilst increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables has substantial consequences on land use and management. In the UK, approximately 85% of farmland is used to feed livestock but this provides only 32% of the calories we eat, whilst the 15% of farmland that is used to grow plant crops for human consumption provides 68% of our calories. Over consumption of meat is a direct cause of diet related health issues. The UK Climate Change Committee recommended reducing consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030, with further reductions in later years to reduce GHG emissions and protect natural ecosystems. Such substantial behaviour changes are likely to have significant impacts on land use in the UK and elsewhere, and on trade in food and livestock feeds. The UK Food Strategy (Dimbleby 2020, 2021) made recommendations on dietary change for human health and environmental sustainability and the need for food system and land use transformations. The report recommends meat consumption is cut by 30% within a decade.

The Dimbleby recommendations have only partially been acted upon in developing a food strategy and eventually legislation in England Wales. The recent Scottish Government Good Food Nation Bill places a strong emphasis on the need for healthy diets and sustainable food production. The UK Eatwell Guide is a policy tool used to define UK government recommendations on eating healthily and achieving a balanced diet. Based on the Eatwell Guide, estimates have been made of the land area required for food production to provide a healthy diet (e.g. in the UK by Williams et al., 2017, and GHG reductions by Rivington et al., 2021). However, this remains an under researched area.

6.3.1 Food consumption reduction policies

Health focussed: Food oriented policies have generally focused on people’s health rather than environmental goals. However, there are parallels between the objectives for consumption reduction for environmental benefits and improving health. The goal of the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan For The Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Disease, for example is “To reduce the preventable and avoidable burden of morbidity, mortality and disability due to noncommunicable diseases by means of multisectoral collaboration and cooperation at national, regional and global levels, so that populations reach the highest attainable standards of health and productivity at every age and those diseases are no longer a barrier to well-being or socioeconomic development” (WHO, 2020).

This strategy uses key overarching principles, which resonate with objectives for reducing consumption and environmental footprints:

  • Life-course approach
  • Empowerment of people and communities
  • Evidence-based strategies
  • Universal health coverage
  • Management of real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest
  • Human rights approach
  • Equity-based approach
  • National action and international cooperation and solidarity
  • Multisectoral action

An estimated 36 million deaths, or 63% of the 57 million deaths occurred globally in 2008 due to non-communicable diseases, comprise cardiovascular diseases (48%), cancers (21%), chronic respiratory diseases (12%) and diabetes (3.5%). These major non-communicable diseases share four behavioural risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol. Approaches to reduce these health risks highlight lessons learned on the importance of engaging with multiple actors, and the potential conflicts arising from power relations and vested interests. For example:

While deaths from noncommunicable diseases mainly occur in adulthood, exposure to risk factors begins in childhood and builds up throughout life, underpinning the importance of legislative and regulatory measures, as appropriate, and health promotion interventions that engage State and non-State actors from within and outside the health sectors, to prevent tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, obesity and harmful use of alcohol and to protect children from adverse impacts of marketing” (WHO, 20013:29)

6.3.2 Linking human health and environmental protection

Recognition is increasing of the co-benefits of integrating objectives for human health and wellbeing with those of environmental protection and enhancement (Dimbleby 2020, 2021; WHO 2020; Dasgupta, 2022). In 2019, the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) published “The Global Consultation Report” calling for the urgent transformation of the global food and land use systems by 2030. The report called for recognition that the provision of healthy diets requires ensuring that farmers have access to better lives as a result of fair payments for their work and that women have more power for decision-making. FOLU (2019) forecast that under current trends, by 2050 there will be a 70% increase in food production, with effects on food prices, land and water requirements and the environment. However, FOLU (2019) note this is possible under the improvement of food supply chains (lower food loss and waste) and a reduction of meat-based proteins. It is important to highlight that negative behaviours such as food waste tend to be more common in parts of the Global North, while the benefits of behavioural changes, including demand for agricultural land, could be experienced in the Global South (p. 192). Making these changes is a matter of environmental and social justice where spillover effects could be reduced.

EU Farm to Fork Strategy: The EU Farm to Fork Strategy (European Commission, 2020a) is part of the European Green Deal (European Commission, 2019a), an aim of which is to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly. It is aligned with the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy, with the two proposals presented as complementary. In its multiple elements (see Figure 4) the Farm to Fork Strategy seeks to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system that should:

  • Have a neutral or positive environmental impact.
  • Help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts.
  • Reverse the loss of biodiversity.
  • Ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food.
  • Preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade.

Figure 4. Schematic of the Farm to Fork strategy

  • Sustainable Food Production
  • Sustainable Food Processing & Distribution
  • Sustainable Food Consumption
  • Food Loss & Waste Prevention

Further aims to be achieved by 2030 include, a 50% reduction in the use of chemical pesticides and the most hazardous pesticides, reduce fertilizers by 20%, reduce sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture by 50%, and at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming. It promotes a circular, “bio-based” economy and the use of food waste as fertilizers, animal feed and bioenergy. It proposes legally binding targets for reducing food waste. The Strategy requires the European Commission to formulate rules to reduce dependency on soya, and to promote the use of alternative feed materials, and promote EU-produced plant-based proteins to consumers.

The Strategy contains a contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security as a precaution against impacts of disruptions of significant magnitude, such as COVID-19. It claims to support the transition to sustainable agri-food systems through EU trade policies and international cooperation instruments.

The Farm to Fork Strategy is ambitious and innovative and seeks to be integrative with other policy areas (i.e. by directly linking to the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, European Commission, 2020b). However, some of the reforms have met resistance from stakeholders including farmers, politicians, country representatives and EU officials (Wise, 2023). Criticism directed at the strategy (e.g. from the animal feed sector) are illustrative of challenges facing achievement of an aim of reducing meat consumption whilst increasing plant-based proteins.

Concerns of some stakeholders about the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, particularly those who perceive the greater threats to their interests, reflect the dilemmas of aiming to address urgent challenges that require transformative change. This highlights issues discussed above about the different scales and focus of perception of risk. Some stakeholders fear change that has negative impacts on their interests, which may detract from an understanding and appreciation of larger scales of risks, such as climate change, biodiversity, health and overall stability of the agri-food system and protection of food security.

6.3.3 Monitoring policies relating to human food and health

The International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS) Healthy Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI) is an example of monitoring of the implementation of a policy on healthy food. The Food-EPI was developed to evaluate the degree of implementation of widely recommended food environment policies by national governments compared to international best practice. It was applied in New Zealand in 2014, 2017 and 2020, comparing policy implementation and recommendations with the 2014 and 2017 Food-EPI. Experts rated the extent of implementation of 47 indicators of “good practice” policy and infrastructure support compared to international best practice. Then they proposed and prioritized specific actions which were needed to address the critical implementation gaps identified (Mackay et al., 2022).

6.4 Focus area: goods and services

6.4.1 Transition to a circular economy

Reducing the consumption of primary resources is an immediate and pressing priority in policies across Europe and beyond. Reducing resource use is necessary to halt the degradation of the natural environment and to facilitate transitions to climate neutrality, in line with the Paris Agreement’s commitment to limit global climate change to well below 2oC. To do this, administrations are seeking to facilitate a transition away from the traditional, linear ‘take, make and dispose’ economic model to a Circular Economy (CE) model.

Within the linear model, raw materials are extracted, used to produce goods which are used/consumed, and then, at the end of their product life, are disposed as waste. In the CE model, the aim is to reduce resource inputs and waste outputs by keeping resources and materials circulating in the system. There is no one agreed definition or interpretation of the circular economy, with the review by Kirchherr et al., 2017 reporting 114 definitions in use. However, a common theme is that in a circular economy materials and resources that might have been disposed of as waste are recirculated through the addition of different processes (loops) which include reducing material use including through design; reuse and repair of products; and recycling and recovery of resources. Interpretations of the CE often fail to pay sufficient attention to the systemic shift required to transition to a CE, with efforts focusing less ambitiously on recycling and incremental measures rather than taking a systems perspective (Kirchherr et al., 2017). Furthermore, research on CEs has tended to focus on industrial and technical production-side problems, however everyday consumption and waste-related behaviour at the individual- and household-level will play a pivotal role in the success of CE policy (Georgantzis Garcia et al., 2021; Camacho-Otero et al., 2018).

There are different ways of conceptualising and illustrating the Circular Economy. The representation in Figure 5, referred to as ‘the butterfly diagram’, is produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It illustrates the continuous flow of materials in a circular economy. There are two main cycles – the technical cycle and the biological cycle. In the technical cycle, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes such as reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycling. In the biological cycle, the nutrients from biodegradable materials are returned to the Earth to regenerate nature.

It is important to note that in addition to the recirculation of materials shown in the butterfly diagram, reducing or eliminating unnecessary material consumption must be prioritised in the transition to a circular economy. To realise the full potential of the circular economy requires an absolute reduction in material consumption. However, if the circular economy is to be framed as a radical systemic change then the butterfly diagram does not convey the whole process which will be required.

Figure 5. Butterfly diagram showing recirculation of materials in the circular economy (Source: Ellen McArthur Foundation). Greater resource efficiency is achieved through the shortest (inner) loops. Realising the full potential of the circular economy transition will require not only a shift towards these shorter loops, but also an absolute reduction in material consumption.

Activities within the CE are commonly conceptualised within frameworks that broadly correspond to the waste hierarchy, as set out in the EU Waste Framework Directive (European Commission, 2008), with activities organised according to their desirability (e.g., Reike et al., 2018; Maitre-Ekern & Dalhammar, 2019). Such hierarchies are dominated by what may be referred to as R-imperatives or R-terms. The most widely recognised of these are ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’, however Reike et al. (2018), in a review of the subject, recorded 38 different ‘re-‘ words in use in the academic literature relating to a circular economy.

Table 2 shows an integrated framework representing the main R-terms discussed in relation to the circular economy. Attention should be paid to the hierarchical nature of different circular processes to maximise the environmental benefits of moving towards a more circular economy. This means that efforts should focus on activities higher up the hierarchy (see R0-R4 in Table 2), prioritising the reduction in consumption and maximisation of product lifespans over less impactful activities such as recycling.

Table 2. Hierarchical framework of circular processes (adapted from Reike et al., 2018, for work in project in the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2022-27, project JHI-C4-1 on the circular economy).

Loop Length



Short loop Rs (product remains close to its user and function)

R0: Refuse

Refraining from buying

R1: Reduce

Using less, retaining for longer, sharing use of products

R2: Resell/reuse

Buying or receiving second hand items, selling or passing on items for reuse

R3: Repair

Making a product work again by repairing or replacing parts

Medium loop Rs (products are upgraded and producers involved)

R4: Refurbish

Replacing several key modules or components to produce an upgraded product

R5: Remanufacture

Full disassembly, cleaning and replacement of key modules or components in an industrial process

R6: Repurpose

Developing new product with a new function using components of an old product

Long loop Rs (products lose their original function)

R7: Recycle

Processing of waste streams (e.g. through shredding, melting) to capture materials for the production of new products.

R8: Recover (energy)

Capturing energy embodied in waste, through energy production from incineration or use of biomass

R9: Re-mine

Recovery of selected materials from landfill (often informally) or minerals from waste

Transitioning to a circular economy is a cornerstone of policy in Europe (e.g. European Green Deal, European Commission, 2019a) and Scotland (e.g. Delivering Scotland's Circular Economy - route map to 2025 and beyond, Scottish Government, 2022). The European Commission’s current Circular Economy Action Plan (European Commission, 2020c) includes flagship measures focusing on the regulation of packaging and packaging waste, eco-design of sustainable products, and construction materials; the introduction of a ‘right to repair’ for consumers; and proposals to tackle the release of microplastics. It supports delivery of existing EU policies as set out in, for example, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and the Ecodesign Directive.

6.4.2 International policy on supply chain regulation

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This EU Directive, presented on the 23rd of February 2022, seeks to “foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour throughout global value chains” (European Commission, 2022). The proposal recognises that European companies are embedded in large global supply chains in which the violation of human rights and environmental impacts could occur during the companies’ operations, its subsidiaries and in the value chain. While there is a recognition that voluntary reporting has become more widespread across companies, the is no evidence that this resulted in large-scale improvement in reducing negative spillovers from European companies. This lack of legal recognition has limited the certainty for companies and victims in case harm occurs. The Directive addresses:

  • Improving governance practices to integrate risk management and mitigation processes of human rights and environmental risks and impacts;
  • Harmonising a legal framework across the EU single market;
  • Increasing accountability for adverse impacts by ensuring coherence for the obligations of companies under EU laws;
  • Improving access to remedies for those affected by negative human rights and environmental impacts caused by corporate behaviour;
  • Working in accordance with other EU measures.

These actions should ensure that the business strategies of companies are compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The Directive applies to both “large EU limited liability companies” and to third country companies (European Commission, 2022), as below:

  • Group 1 Around 9,400 companies with more than 500 employees and a net EUR 150 million+ turnover worldwide.
  • Group 2 Around 3,400 companies in high-impact sectors with at least 250 employees and a net EUR 40+ million turnover worldwide. These sectors include textiles, agriculture, extraction of minerals forestry, fisheries, live animals, wood, and the financial sector.
  • In the case of third-country companies active in the EU, which numbers approximately 2,600 in group 1 and 1,400 in group 2, the rules apply when the threshold is reached through their revenue generated in the EU.
  • Micro and SME companies are exempted from these rules, including the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD)

The rules within this Directive will be enforced by the administrative supervision of a national authority which will impose effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions including fines and compliance orders. Member States will ensure that victims of environmental, or other labour-related, incidents caused by failure of compliance will receive compensation.

Scale context example: In the case of the European Union, multiple reports (see EUROSTAT, 2022; Malik et al., no date; SDSN et al., 2021:42), have tracked the international negative spillovers embodied in supply chains. According to EUROSTAT (2022), EU consumption generated €1,537 billion of gross value added (GVA) in the rest of the world in 2019. Part of that consumption has generated a significant amount of negative spillovers. For example, the carbon dioxide emissions embodied in EU imports are one third higher than those produced by exports. The EU imports approximately 45% of cropland and forest products to satisfy EU consumption, which is one-third more than it exports. Seventeen percent of total EU consumption is in raw materials, which is often associated with high CO2 emissions and deforestation outwith Europe (SDSN et al., 2021). The main impact of the EU outwith its borders is through GHG emissions and black carbon, mostly generated for in the production of electrical and machinery products, textiles and food and beverages (SDSN et al., 2021:48).

6.4.3 Pollution from exported waste

Discourses are evident about the urgency towards reducing plastics, consuming less meat and transitioning to fossil fuel-free vehicle fuel. As examined by Hickel (2021), these discourses do not challenge existing ways of living in the Global North. One consequence is that environmental degradation is outsourced to the Global South where polluting factories are located, deforestation continues, and mining takes place. If current inequalities and injustices are not considered, rather than aiming to tackle environment-related issues, the proposed ‘solutions’ will serve as ways in which richer nations externalise problems (offshoring) and exploit other nations in the process. This risks the exploitation of workers and adherence to lower environmental standards, especially in developing countries, which may damage the local environment or pose threats to human health and social conditions (UNCTAD, 2004).

An example of externalising problems is campaigns against pollution due to plastics. While in developed countries there has been a campaign against the use of single-use plastics, and some success in increasing use of recycling processes, most of the plastic generated in the European Union is reported to be exported to developing nations (5 Gyres, no date). The technology required to burn plastics is almost always imported for use in developing nations through loans paid to the Global North. A further means by which plastics are handled in Global South countries is by their burning in open pits, with potential adverse impacts on local health and the environment (Pandey, et al., 2021; Liboiron, 2018). This transforms the narrative of environmental protection into one that can allow accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003) in the form of debt. It has been argued that the movement against plastics has reinforced colonialism and moves away from the principles of a well-being economy (Liboiron, 2018).

INTERPOL (2020) has identified an increasing influence of transnational organised crime to divert plastic waste towards South East Asia, and a small amount towards Eastern Europe. According to that agency, these criminal activities have been largely triggered as a consequence of China banning the import of plastic waste, which, until 2018, was responsible for 45% of the world’s plastic recycling. This suggests that the success of national environmental policies in the Global North will depend on mobilising actions by other nations. However, such mobilisation should only operate within a framework which respects environmental justice in all nations.



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