Scottish Economy, Trade

Exports and the climate emergency? (an aside)

One interesting aside to recent discussions on the latest export figures for Scotland is the links between exports and emissions.

On the one hand, the Scottish Government are committed to growing Scotland’s international presence through boosting exports.

But as we showed in a companion blog, any realistic attempt to boost exports is likely to require a major shift in manufactured goods.

Exporting services is tricky to do. Firstly, because not all services are simply exportable (think of haircuts or buying a dinner in your favourite restaurant). Secondly, because those services that in theory are exportable – such as banking and professional services – run up against significant barriers in the form of different country-specific laws, tax systems and regulatory regimes.

But boosting manufactured goods and shipping them overseas – all else remaining equal – is likely to raise Scotland’s CO2 emissions.


  • Firstly, making ‘more stuff’ uses energy, resources and raises CO2 emissions.
  • Secondly, a product – from a widget through to a cutting-edge drilling machine the size of a house – needs to be transported to its final destination. That requires, flights, road transport, rail or by shipping. Transport remains highly CO2 heavy.

In recent research for UKERC, we showed that any effort to improve the UK (and by implication) Scotland’s export performance is likely to lead to a rise in emissions. In short, exports are not typically ‘green’ in nature. So there’s a dilemma here for the Scottish Government. Working to boost the export base for our economy, might help create jobs and grow the economy. But it also might make meeting their climate change targets that bit more difficult. As so often with policies and targets, they two are not often joined up.


The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) is a leading economy research institute based in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.