Climate campaigners are demanding that the new Circular Economy Bill fixes a huge “climate blind spot” by addressing the emissions from goods made overseas but consumed in Scotland.

The Scottish Government currently only has targets and plans to reduce domestic climate emissions, and those from our imports are being missed. Because of this, domestic have emissions have reduced while emissions from imports have increased over time.

Campaigners want to see this being addressed with the introduction of consumption targets, which would work alongside climate targets to reduce the overall consumption of goods and lower Scotland’s overall impact on the planet.

Targets can drive policies to encourage producers to make products last for longer, ensure they are easy to repair, choose lower carbon materials, and to shift consumption patterns away from polluting goods and services.

In 2019, Scotland’s official climate emissions were reported as 46 million tonnes but if we include the impacts of our imported goods, they were 64% higher, at 76 million tonnes of carbon.

Many countries have set legal targets to reduce their global consumption. In 2021, the European Parliament voted to create targets to reduce its consumption footprint and in 2022, Sweden voted to introduce carbon consumption reduction targets. Most recently, Austria has set targets, promising to cut its consumption impacts to sustainable levels by 2050.

The call comes as the Circular Economy Bill is due to be debated in the Scottish Parliament in the next month. The Circular Economy Bill aims to change the way Scotland uses materials, but it does not currently commit to carbon targets to reduce consumption or a comprehensive framework to create a circular economy.

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

“Scotland has a huge climate blind spot which needs to be addressed urgently. If we fail to look at our emissions from imports, policy decisions will continue to be made based on what reduces our domestic emissions rather than our overall impact. For a global challenge like the climate crisis, that makes no sense.

“Rather than buying more imported goods, the total amount of goods we buy, whether they are imported or not, must come down. This week’s ban on disposable vapes is an example of moving away from a throwaway economy, but we don’t have time to debate products one at a time.

“The new Circular Economy law is a fantastic opportunity for Scotland to take responsibility for its global impact and ensure that the products we buy last longer. By supporting reuse and repair organisations and focusing on public services over private, the Scottish Government can create a society that’s better for those of us who live here and reduces the harm our being caused by our consumption globally.”

Key facts:
– Scotland’s carbon ‘blind spot’ has grown from 18 to 30 million tonnes of carbon since 1998.
– Scotland consumed over 100 million tonnes of material in 2018, which is 19 tonnes of material per person on average
– Experts have stated that it is possible to live sustainable, high-quality lives on a material footprint of eight tonnes of materials per person per year

Examples of circular economy policies

If Scotland’s 2.5 million fossil fuel cars were replaced, like for like with electric ones this would cut our domestic emissions but still create emissions at a global level by increasing our demand for imported materials, like lithium which is used in electric car batteries. Lithium is mostly mined in South America and is more carbon intensive than coal to extract. However, if the cars were replaced with electric buses instead, less materials would be needed overall. Increasing the proportion of bus journeys in Scotland to 30% (this is similar to the levels of bus use in London today) would save 13,800 tonnes of lithium.

Not only can the climate blind spot increase global emissions, but it can also have negative economic impacts too, as economic activity is offshored – sending both emissions and jobs overseas. For example, when Ravenscraig steel mill closed in 1992, 3.5 million tonnes of carbon were wiped of Scotland’s carbon balance sheets. But Scotland didn’t stop demanding steel overnight. Today, almost no steel is made in Scotland but our demand for imported steel is growing.

Scotland has a ready supply of high-quality scrap steel from decommissioned oil and gas rigs. This must be sent outside of Scotland for processing but a steel recycling plant in Scotland could create over 650 jobs, add £400m to the Scottish economy and mean we could be producing some of the greenest steel in the world. Such an approach would increase emissions within Scotland but reduce global carbon emissions overall. These types of policies, where material processing is brought back within Scottish borders using green technology, only makes sense if consumption-based emissions are considered alongside domestic ones.

Scottish Government greenhouse gas emission statistics (domestic only)

Scottish Government carbon footprint statistics (including imports)

Zero Waste Scotland (2023) steel processing report

European consumption targets

Sweden votes for carbon consumption targets

Circular Economy Bill, as introduced

Circular Economy Bill FAQs