Imported Goods Increase Scotland’s Carbon Footprint

Greenhouse  Gas Emissions from imports are now greater than the rest of Scotland’s emissions combined. That’s the result just published in Scotland’s Carbon Footprint: 1998-2018 by Scotland’s Chief Statistician.

Greenhouse gas emissions embedded in imported goods and services from overseas accounted for 51.9% of Scotland’s carbon footprint in 2018; up from 49.2% in 1998.

Scotland’s carbon footprint by main component 1998 – 2018 Values in MtCO2

“Between 2017 and 2018, Scotland’s carbon footprint (emissions from all greenhouse gases) increased by 2.6 per cent from 68.7 in 2017 to 70.4 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2018. This increase was mainly related to emissions associated with imported goods and services although domestic emissions also increased in 2018.”

The Net Zero Targets for Scotland only cover greenhouse gases emitted in Scotland. They do not factor in imported goods. This means in one way Scotland can look like it is doing really well to reduce its carbon footprint, whereas if we continue to rely so much on imported goods then the reality is that we are not doing well.

Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions can be broken up into three main categories:

  1. emissions embedded in imported goods and services
  2. emissions embedded in UK produced goods and services
  3. emissions directly produced by Scottish residents, through activities such as heating and motoring.
Detailed breakdown of Scotland’s carbon footprint, 1998 and 2005 to 2018. Values in MtCO2e

Greenhouse gas emissions directly produced by Scottish residents accounted for 17.7 % of Scotland’s carbon footprint in 2018; up from 13.3% of total consumption-based emissions in 1998.

Greenhouse gas emissions embedded in UK produced goods and services accounted for 30.4% of Scotland’s carbon footprint in 2018; down from 37.5% in 1998.

Climate campaigners see that one way round this problem is to reuse and recycle to reduce unnecessary imports.

Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said:

“The rise in Scotland’s carbon footprint is alarming. By only looking at the emissions produced at home, we are ignoring the greatest part of our carbon footprint and failing to play our full role in tackling the climate crisis. The climate emergency doesn’t recognise any borders, and by outsourcing the emissions from imports to other countries, the Scottish Government is shirking its responsibility.

“The Scottish Government can reverse the rise in emissions by putting strong consumption targets at the heart of its newly announced Circular Economy Bill – this is the only way to ensure that Scotland reduces its global environmental impact.”