Scottish Economy

Scotland’s Road to Net Zero – Tracking Scotland’s Performance

The 2021 United Nations (UN) 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) is underway in Glasgow until 12 November 2021.

The Fraser of Allander Institute will be discussing key economic issues surrounding climate change and climate change policies. We will also be highlighting a range of research related to COP26, from academic papers to pieces of commissioned research. To find out more, click here.


Scotland is committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2045 however, whilst the volume of greenhouse gas emissions indicates the fate of our planet, they alone do not reflect the state of our environment.

This article, taken from our latest Fraser of Allander Economic Commentary, looks to understand Scotland’s path to net zero and the quality of Scotland’s environment, taking stock of Scotland’s performance under the National Performance Framework (NPF).

The Scottish Government’s NPF tracks the performance of Scotland’s 11 ‘National Outcomes’ by measuring the progress of 81 national indicators.

The NPF follows the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the aim of localising the UN’s international ambitions.

Of the 11 national outcomes, 3 can be linked to the climate or environment:


Communities, and


Whilst the economy outcome includes measures surrounding greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprint and natural capital, the outcome for communities includes an indicator linked to environmental wellbeing – access to green or blue space.

Similar to the green space measure in communities, the environment outcome goes beyond the traditional environmental measurement of emissions, recognising that Scotland must value, enjoy, protect and enhance the Scottish environment.

The environment outcome has the following indicators:

Visits to outdoors;

State of historical sites;

Condition of protected nature sites;

Energy from renewable sources;

Waste generated;

Sustainability of fish stocks;

Biodiversity; and,

Clean seas.

This section highlights Scotland’s performance under these national outcomes, tracing the progress of each indicator under the three outcomes.

Each indicator has a set of criterion that determines the performance of the measure. Based on the criteria, the performance of each indicator is recorded as improving, worsening or maintaining.

National Outcome – Economy

GHG emissions (performance: improving)

Scottish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stood at 47.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2019 – a reduction of 2.3% (1.1 MtCO2e) on the year and 43.8% since 1990.

The main drivers of this decline were from business, energy supply and domestic transport.

The Committee for Climate Change (CCC) recommended a new methodology for emission reporting against GHG targets. Under this adjusted method, GHG emissions stand at around 51.5% below the baseline.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2019 outlines that a 55% reduction must be met by 2019; Scotland therefore failed to meet its target.

Despite this, the performance of this indicator is improving as the percentage reduction in emissions exceeded the amount required for that year.

Chart 1: Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Values in MtCO2e), Scotland, 1990 – 2019

Source: Scottish Government

Carbon footprint (performance: improving)

In 2017, Scotland’s carbon footprint was over 70 MtCO2e – a decrease of 3.5% since 2016, and over 30% lower than the peak of 2007 (101 MtCO2e).

This measure is on a consumption basis. That is, it estimates the emissions associated with the spend of Scottish residents on goods and services – including emissions emitted internationally.

The performance of this measure is improving as the difference exceeds 3%.

Chart 2: MtCO2e, Scotland, 1998 – 2017

Source: Scottish Government

Natural Capital (performance: maintaining)

The Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) tracks the quality and quantity of terrestrial habits across Scotland.

In 2019, the NCAI stood at 102.6, 0.1-p.p. above 2018 levels and 2.6% above the 2000 baseline. See Chart 29.

This indicator has remained stable (that is, the annual difference fell within 2-p.p.), meaning the performance of this indicator is maintaining.

Chart 3: NCAI, Scotland, 2000 – 2019

Source: Nature Scot

National Outcome – Communities

Access to green and blue space (performance: maintaining)

The share of adults living within a 5 minute walk of green or blue space fell slightly in 2014-2016 and has remained at around 65% since.

In 2019, people living in Scotland’s most deprived areas were less likely to live near green/blue space than people in the least deprived.

Chart 4: % of adults who live within a 5 minute walk of a local green or blue space, Scotland, 2013 – 2019

Source: Scottish Government (SHS)

The performance of this indicator is maintaining as the difference on last year falls within 2-p.p.

National Outcome – Environment

Visits to the Outdoors (performance: worsening)

The share of adults who made a visit outdoors once or more times a week, on average, in 2019, was 56% – 3-percentage points lower than in 2018.

As the decline in this measure exceeded 2-p.p., the performance of this indicator is worsening.

Chart 5: % of adults who have visited outdoors in the past 12 months by frequency of visit, Scotland, 2012 – 2019

Source: Scottish Government SHS

State of historic sites (performance: maintaining)

In 2019, the share of historic sites in a ‘poor state’1 was down 2-p.p.

This decline was not statistically significant. Therefore, Scotland is maintaining its performance of this measure. See Chart 6.

Chart 6: % of pre-1919 dwellings (‘historic sites’) with disrepair to critical elements, Scotland, 2014 – 2019

Source: Scottish Government (SHCS)

Condition of protected nature sites (performance: maintaining)

In 2021, 78.3% of natural features – sites of special scientific interest, Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Special areas of Conservation (SACs) and designated natural features – were assessed as being in a ‘favourable condition’2, 0.5-p.p. below 2020.

Despite a downward trajectory since 2018, the long-term trend is positive for this indicator – up 2.3-p.p. since 2007.

There is no significant difference (change greater than 1-p.p.) since last year for this indicator therefore, the performance of this measure is maintaining.

Chart 7: % of natural features in a favourable condition, Scotland, 2007 – 2021

Source: Nature Scot

Energy from renewable sources (performance: improving)

In 2019, renewable energy made up 24% of energy consumption, up 3-p.p. on the year. As the change in this indicator exceeds 0.5-p.p., the performance is improving.

Chart 8: % of energy coming from renewable sources, Scotland, 2009 – 2019

Source: Scottish Government

Over the decade, renewable energy consumption has increased by over 16-p.p., with much of the growth in this indicator driven by electricity generation.

Waste generated (performance: maintaining)

The amount of waste generated by households increased by 0.7% (16.500t) in the latest year.

However, this change was not large enough (greater than 1%) to be considered significant, meaning that Scotland is maintaining its performance of this measure.

Despite the recent increase, the longer-term trend highlights that waste has fallen by 7% (under 200,000t) since 2011, however, most of this decline was felt between 2011-2013, with improvements levelling off since 2014.

Chart 9: tonnes of household waste generated, Scotland, 2011-2019

Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

Sustainability of fish stocks (performance: improving)

Fish being ‘sustainably fished’ in Scottish waters has been on an upwards trajectory since the mid-90s.

In the latest year, 67% of stock fished from Scottish waters were fished sustainably3, up 7-p.p. on 2017 – a new high for this measure. The performance of this measure is therefore improving as the increase exceeds 3-p.p.

Chart 10: % of fish stock fished in a sustainable way, Scotland, 1991 – 2018

Source: Scottish Government

Biodiversity (performance: maintaining)

Biodiversity in Scotland has been declining over the past few decades.

Chart 11: Index of biodiversity*, Scotland, 1994 – 2018

*the number of marine species is based on seabirds

Source: Nature Scot

The abundance (number of species) of marine and terrestrial (including freshwater species) species has, for the most part, been on a downwards decline since recording began.

In 2018, there was 64% of marine species relative to 1994 – a contraction of over a third of marine species.

And, in 2016, there was just 69% of terrestrial species compared to the amount found in 1994. The occupancy trends reflect the sites where species are present and are less likely to change significantly each year.

Due to no significant changes, the performance of this indicator is maintaining.

Clean seas (performance: maintaining)

Finally, the share of contaminants in Scottish waters that are unlikely to cause harm to marine species has remained stable for the past few years.

Due to there being no change in this indicator, Scotland is maintaining its performance of this measure.

Chart 12: the percentage of biogeographic regions with acceptably low levels of contaminants, Scotland, 2015 – 2019


Overall performance

So, overall, how is Scotland performing against its climate and environmental targets?

Of the 11 measures discussed, Scotland has maintained its performance in over half, and made improvements on 4, with 1 measure worsening.

Chart 13: Overall performance of Scotland against climate/environment related measures

Source: FAI; NPF

Scotland has ambitious targets to reach net zero by 2045 and, so far, we are falling behind in the cuts to emissions needed to reach these targets.

However, it is not just GHG emissions that we need to be concerned about.

The quality of our seas, biodiversity and environmental wellbeing are all crucial to sustainability.

Whilst Scotland only has one indicator that is worsening, the majority are just maintaining.

More needs to be done to improve our green and blue spaces, and protect the species that depend on these habitats.


1 For this indicator, poor state is defined as the share of historical dwellings (built pre-1919) that have disrepair to critical elements.

2 Favourable conditions criteria are based on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s (JNCC) guidelines.

3 In simplistic terms, sustainable fishing ensures that there is enough fish left to produce replacements.



Adam is an Economist Fellow at the FAI who works closely with FAI partners and specialises in business analysis. Adam's research typically involves an assessment of business strategies and policies on economic, societal and environmental impacts. Adam also leads the FAI's quarterly Scottish Business Monitor.

Find out more about Adam.