Understanding the climate impact of food consumed in Scotland

Different foods have different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, dietary transitions can play a role in meeting net zero emission targets. The Climate Change Committee’s Scottish progress review in December 2022 included a call to change Scottish diets.

This report examines current evidence on dietary patterns and their associated emissions to establish a baseline understanding of the climate impact of food consumed in Scotland.

Summary findings

There is significant uncertainty around the magnitude of emissions associated with food consumed in Scotland. Data gaps contribute to uncertainty, particularly relating to estimates for children and regional variability in food consumption and associated emissions.

While cereals, vegetables and potatoes are important contributors to nutrient intake, meat and dairy are important contributors to both nutrient intake and greenhouse gas emissions in Scottish diets.

Further research into where foods consumed in Scotland are produced and processed, along with research into the nature of under-reporting in food consumption data would improve the accuracy of estimates. Two approaches are recommended:

  • Bottom up: starting with consumption data to enable estimation of emissions from specific food groups and by specific population subgroups.
  • Top down: adding up the emissions from sectors involved in the food system has the benefit of being more comprehensive. It can include emissions often missing in studies that start with consumption data, such as emissions from household and hospitality energy use, consumer transport and food waste disposal.

Together these approaches would provide a more complete picture of greenhouse gas emissions associated with food consumed in Scotland, and provide cross-validation.

If you require the report in an alternative format, such as a Word document, please contact info@climatexchange.org.uk or 0131 651 4783.