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.

8. Conclusions

The aspirations of the Scottish Environment Strategy align with obligations under international conventions and treaties, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It also reflects other conventions such as the UN Convention on Human Rights, and the Aarhus Convention (UNECE, 1998).

Reducing consumption of resources is a ‘wicked problem’, with multiple dimensions that include technical issues relating to manufacturing and production, the sourcing of raw materials, the re-use and handling of materials and waste, and the behaviours of businesses and consumers. Competing interests and potential solutions are likely to involve trade-offs being made with regard to economic growth and stability. The achievement of the Environment Strategy’s Global Footprint outcome - “We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint” - requires changing approaches and attitudes towards the consumption of resources, including the contents of supply chains, from raw materials through to re-use.

The public, private, third sectors, and individuals all have roles to play to achieve the aim of Scotland and its people being responsible global citizens. A range of policy levers have been used at international (e.g. European Union), UK and Scottish levels to reduce international environmental impacts of consumption and production. Within the UK, some policy levers are powers reserved to the UK Government (e.g. duties on goods) and others are the responsibilities of devolved administrations (e.g. planning).

Within this review, examples of four categories of policy levers have been sourced: regulatory, economic, infrastructure-based and information–based. Insufficient time has passed since the adoption of some policy initiatives for conclusions to be drawn on their effectiveness in achieving the impacts sought, an example of which is the creation of legally binding targets in the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. However, the examples sourced and directly associated or related research provide evidence of what can be achieved, and some of the limitations or constraints, as summarised below.

Regulatory levers

  • International/multi-lateral agreements can provide frameworks for action within states, and shared goals for collaborations between nations or regions. Such international agreements include frameworks for tackling climate change, reversing the loss of biodiversity, trading arrangements, and the shared values of the rule of law. They provide what appears to be a comprehensive basis for the Environment Strategy. However, it is likely that lessons could be learnt from strategies being developed in other jurisdictions and mapped onto the aims and actions required to achieve the Outcome Pathways of the Environment Strategy, such as the EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles (European Commission, 2022).
  • Mandatory due diligence obligations are seen as a strategy with the broadest scope for reducing environmental footprints within supply chains and align with the Environment Strategy objectives. Mandatory due diligence requires an equal engagement between demand side regulatory administration and co-construction with supply side countries, along with mechanisms for monitoring and reporting and commensurate enforcement powers in the event of failure to meet obligations. They can be linked to other policy levers, such as sustainable commodity import guarantees. However, mandatory due diligence is an authority reserved to the UK Government with a consequence that there is limited scope for its use by the Scottish Government.
  • Statutory targets and monitoring frameworks provide the opportunity for enforceable requirements for behaviour change within businesses and supply chains by setting legally binding targets and monitoring mechanisms to assess progress. As with mandatory due diligence, statutory targets require appropriate scales of enforcement to ensure adherence to obligations. Combined with mandatory due diligence, statutory targets can help signal the direction of change required in supply chain processes and use of materials. This needs to be developed collaboratively with supply side stakeholders to meet social justice goals. The Welsh Global Footprint National Indicator, together with the work-in-progress by GFN focused on Scotland’s environmental footprint, could inform the development of an equivalent indicator for Scotland.
  • Mandatory public procurement requirements have significant potential to reduce consumption due to the volume of goods and services used by the public sector. Examples of procurement that take account of social considerations in public procurement (e.g. European Commission, 2021c) can be tailored to local and regional capabilities whilst also representing a policy instrument with the potential to influence supply chains that sits outwith the domain of international trade.

Economic levers

  • Taxation – From the implementation of carbon taxes in several countries (e.g. Sweden), there is evidence to suggest it can form a valuable component in an approach to migrate away from fossil fuels. However, it may not be sufficient to stop carbon leakage in sectors such as industrial production and transport. Some of these limitations are shared in the case of a possible tax on meat. While discursively speaking it could resonate with current discourses, and evidence, around the environmental impacts of meat production, in practice other variables must be considered. Governments should also consider the conditions under which cattle are raised (intense versus free range), range of meat alternative products and dietary requirements of people.
  • Sustainable commodity import guarantees can be designed to de-risk the sourcing of commodities produced by sustainable means for inclusion within supply chains. The approach would link to mandatory due diligence and monitoring frameworks, and the use of information-based levers (e.g. auditable evidence of eligibility for certification or sustainability labels). The qualifying criteria for such guarantees can be tailored to specific supply chains and products of significance to the Scottish economy and consumption.

Infrastructure-based levers

  • Reuse infrastructure is creating opportunities for innovation and new businesses. Such infrastructures can be co-supported through: i) UK policies of levelling up and regeneration, such as the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport and Forth Green Freeport, and the £52m start-up funding and tax reliefs being made available; and ii) regional growth funds, such as the identification of investment at Hunterston support blue, green and circular economy drivers in the Ayrshire Growth Deal.
  • While the Scottish Decommissioning Action Plan (Scottish Enterprise, 2016) has identified economic opportunities in the decommissioning of oil and gas assets, there is a need for the plan to be updated to include renewable energy infrastructure. As early as 2025 at least 300 wind turbines will have to be decommissioned, creating an urgent need to consider how to recycle their materials as a way of reducing Scotland’s consumption of raw materials whilst also continuing the development of renewable energy systems.

Information-based levers

  • Certifications and eco-labelling schemes provide standards and criteria for qualification of a process or product, and can be aspirational. They provide a basis for designations and can be used in targeting policy (e.g. EU Farm to Fork Strategy aiming for at least 25% of the EU's agricultural land under organic farming by 2030). However, such standards can constrain businesses which are still motivated to transition to sustainability. Evidence suggests a willingness to adopt alternative strategies with closely related aims, such as transitioning to agro-ecological farm systems that include social and governance factors in their models of operation.

The Scottish Government should explore and support a Sustainability Label in accordance with the ISO type 1 ecolabels framework, learning from the Nordic Swan Ecolabel and plans by the EU, but taking account of social, governance and economic factors.

  • Capacity building – Mechanisms for building capacity should be designed with a view to the types of actions sought to be taken by actors in policy, business, NGOs, civil society and citizens. The models of the EU EIP Focus Groups and Operational Groups provide examples of how knowledge from research and practice can be brought to bear on specific challenges with a view to simulating new technical, product or social innovations, and the sharing of experiences on tackling environmental footprints that take advantage of ways that are inclusive and collaborative. They are consistent with recommendations of investing in more collaborative ways of working, including through trade, based on shared goals and responsibilities (Global Resource Initiative, 2020). It is likely that achieving the aims of the Global Footprint Outcome Pathway will require a suite of policy levers, the combinations of which offer prospects of achieving the aim of a sustainable international footprint.

The adoption of approaches articulated by bodies such as the Centre for Global Commons and the Stockholm Resilience Centre could position Scotland in the forefront of acting on reducing the environmental footprint of its economic and consumer activities. Actions by government can be influential in providing markets and sending messages to supply chains. Procurement policies of government and the private sector can be used to ensure that evidence of approaches to minimise adverse environmental impacts throughout a supply chain is a material consideration in the awarding of contracts.

In a topic as inherently complex as environmental footprints, when evidence of success is identified and verified it should be celebrated. Means of recognition of such success could include formal awards for organisations (public, private or third sector) and individuals, the significance of which can be developed so that it becomes an aspirational achievement. Sub-divisions of such schemes can recognise particular circumstances or members of society (e.g. island communities which can be expected to have to import more than those on the mainland; young people; transitions in traditional business sectors). Such a component of implementation of the Strategy can reinforce the messages of what is meant by being ‘responsible global citizens’.



Back to top