SCOTLAND's carbon footprint has risen from its lowest point in 2017 - despite national efforts to cut greenhouse gases to meet tough climate change targets, it has emerged.

Official analysis shows that the total amount of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane that are generated by the public's actions has dropped by nearly a quarter in the 21 years since 1998.

But between 2017 and 2019 - there has been near 5% rise in our carbon footprint from million 72.4 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 1998 to 75.9 MtCO2e in 2019 - the most recent year for which data was available.

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The rise has been attributed to emissions embodied in goods and services from other countries and directly used by Scottish consumers which has risen from 25.8 to 31.0 MtCO2e.

It made up nearly 58% of Scotland's carbon emissions in 2019 - with 31% coming from consumers and 13% coming from business. In 1998 some 48.6% of the carbon footprint was from abroad including 21% from businesses and 27% from consumers.

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Some 26.5% of the imported emissions came from the EU, while 15% came from China and 11% from Africa.

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It was hoped by environmentalists that the Circular Economy Bill, that was due to be consulted on in May, last year, would be a chance for Scotland to reverse the upward trend.

Friends of the Earth Scotland are concerned about the rise saying that imports are excluded from Scotland's stringent national climate targets.

Scotland has set a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with interim targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. Net zero means the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we put into the atmosphere and the amount we are able to take out will add up to zero.

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Kim Pratt, circular economy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: "It is deeply concerning that the proportion of Scotland’s carbon footprint which comes from imports rose again in 2019. Emissions from imports don't count towards Scotland’s climate targets, which means they aren’t factored into the Scottish Government's climate reduction plans and so they continue to rise.

“Climate change is a global crisis, but by ignoring the impact of imported goods it is possible to meet our targets by buying more products from abroad, which wouldn’t actually reduce our impact at all.

“The Scottish Government needs to be bold and decisive to create the change we need. It needs to seize the opportunity of the upcoming circular economy bill to reduce material consumption to sustainable levels with strong targets, not just from the resources we extract at home but those overseas as well.”

It comes after Nicola Sturgeon was warned in December that Scotland’s highly ambitious climate targets are “in danger of being meaningless” because her government still has no clear plan to meet them.

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The official advisory body, the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said Scottish ministers would almost certainly miss its world-leading carbon reduction targets for 2030 by a substantial margin, despite the First Minister's repeated promises of radical action on the climate.

In its annual report on Scotland’s climate strategy, the CCC said there were “glaring gaps” between its ambitions to cut emissions by 75% by 2030 and its success in meeting them. It was failing on farming, building emissions, recycling, peatland restoration and on cutting car use.

The latest carbon footprint data also shows the smallest drop in emissions was in those directly generated by households in areas such as heating and motoring.


Emissions in this sector fell by just 7.4% over the period from 1998 to 2019.

The figures for Scotland's carbon footprint are an estimate of greenhouse gases linked to Scots' spending on goods and services, wherever in the world these emissions occur, combined with emissions directly generated by people in Scotland, such as by heating and by private motoring.

Emissions linked to private motor journeys are higher than they were in 1998, when these produced 5.1 MtCO2e - with the total for 2019 being 5.3 MtCO2e, though this was down from 5.4 MtCO2e in each of the two previous years.

Meanwhile, emissions resulting from domestic heating amounted to 7.1 MtCO2e in 2019 - with this down from 7.2 MtCO2e the previous year but higher than the total of 6.9 MtCO2e recorded in 2017.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We are pleased to see a modest decrease in Scotland's carbon footprint.

"However, we know that much more needs to be done to reduce the impact of our economy on our environment.

"That is why we will soon be bringing forward a Circular Economy Bill. This will establish the legislative framework to support Scotland's transition to a zero waste and circular economy, increase reuse and recycling rates, and modernise our waste and recycling services."

The spokesperson added: "Our 2023-24 Budget prioritises a just transition to a net zero, climate resilient and biodiverse Scotland, with over £2.2 billion of investment.

"Alongside our £70 million Recycling Improvement Fund, and the UK's first deposit return scheme, this will help to reduce Scotland's carbon footprint and contribute to the global fight against climate change."

After the CCC’s criticisms last year – days after the First Minister reiterated her pledges to be a world leader on climate at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow – Scotland’s net zero secretary, Michael Matheson, said ministers were “resolutely focused” on delivering its promises.

The CCC’s last report repeats many of the previous year's criticisms but this time warns the there is an “urgent need” for a dramatically accelerated and detailed strategy to get closer to meeting the 2030 targets.