'Outsourcing' Emissions Hides Countries' True Carbon Footprints.
The extent to which the UK and other industrialized nations are "outsourcing " their carbon emissions to developing countries was again highlighted today with the publication of a major new report revealing that goods and services imported into developed countries typically account for around a third of their total carbon footprint.
The study from a team of researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science used published trade data for 2004 to assess the global trade flows for products across 57 different industries and 113 countries.
It then allocated carbon footprints for the products and services involved, revealing that import-reliant industrialized economies are effectively outsourcing their carbon emissions to companies in countries such as China that produce the goods and services they use.
The report, which was published yesterday in the 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that products imported by the U.K. are responsible for 253 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, equivalent to 4.3 extra tonnes per person on top of the official per capita emissions of 9.7 tonnes.
Similarly, the U.S. and Japan are respectively responsible for 699 million and 284 million tonnes of overseas carbon emissions, while some smaller countries such as Switzerland are effectively outsourcing more carbon emissions than they release in their own borders.
"Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China," said report lead author Steven Davis. "On the flip side, nearly a quarter of the emissions produced in China are ultimately exported."
The reports findings echo similar studies from the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research and Oxford University, both of which found that the emission reductions delivered by a number of industrialized countries have been largely the result of carbon intensive heavy industries being outsourced to developing countries.
The report will further strengthen the position of Chinese officials, who have long maintained that those developed countries that import Chinese goods and services have to take some form of responsibility for the country's soaring carbon emissions.
Report co-author Ken Caldeira attempted to downplay the political implications of the report. "Our analysis of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with consumption in each country just states the facts," he said. "This could be taken into consideration when developing emissions targets for these countries, but that's a decision for policy-makers."
However, Davis insisted that the research underlined the urgent need for a global framework for tackling rising greenhouse gas emissions. "Where CO2 emissions occur doesn't matter to the climate system," he said. "Effective policy must have global scope. To the extent that constraints on developing countries' emissions are the major impediment to effective international climate policy, allocating responsibility for some portion of these emissions to final consumers elsewhere may represent an opportunity for compromise."
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