Carbon Omissions

Official statistics claim that UK emissions have fallen. But they haven’t: when you account for the carbon in our imports, they’ve gone up by 20% in twenty years – and are set to rise further. The Government is staying quiet about these outsourced emissions – after all, it’s failed to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of UK consumption. PIRC wants this to change, and our ongoing investigation is detailed on these pages.

IPCC: CO2 emissions are being ‘outsourced’ by rich countries to rising economies

The upcoming IPCC Fifth Assessment Working Group 2 report will cover outsourced emissions:

“A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries.

For more on this problem, see our Carbon Omissions animation.

Talking about consumption

If our carbon emissions are falling, it means we’re on the right track, right? And we’ve done it without needing to drastically change our economics (or even our lifestyles). But what if our accounting systems are wrong?

Last week, we launched our brand new animation exposing three lies we are told consistently by our government about our emissions. The animation, produced in collaboration with leading animator Leo Murray and acclaimed journalist George Monbiot, is the culmination of a lengthy project by PIRC to ensure the UK’s emissions are properly tackled by the Government. Read more

Royal Society’s report asks right questions about consumption

This is a guest post by environmental campaigner Alex Randall.

What responsibility should rich countries take for their historical carbon emissions? Should consumption by the wealthy have to be curbed to accommodate the growing consumption of the world”s poorest billion people? These are questions that are not quite answered by the Royal Society”s recent People and the Planet report.

The report acknowledges that consumption is a problem. If we do not want to run up against various ecological limits, or planetary boundaries, the richest countries will have to reduce the amount they consume. This needs to happen to make space for the 1 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day to consume more. Because of various ecological limits – including climate change – it is not possible for the wealthy countries to continue on their consumption trajectory, as well as allowing for the world”s poorest to consume more too.

This is fairly controversial, especially coming from an organisation like the Royal Society. The great hope of many governments across the world is that consumption by rich countries can continue and possibly expand, while at the same time, consumption by the world”s poorest (and everyone in between) can expand as well. The aim is that through new technology and market mechanisms the ecological impact of consumption can be reduced so that we do not run up against the planet”s ecological limits.

The authors of People and the Planet are clear that this isn”t possible: The combined effects of market forces and new technologies are not able to overcome planetary boundaries on the scale necessary to avoid unsustainable pressure on the planet and much human suffering.” Because economic growth (measured in GDP) and consumption are so closely linked, this will mean GDP growth might no longer be possible. What needs to be done instead is almost too controversial for the report to go into. The possibility of steady-state and circular economies are discussed, but  the report stops short of really making the case for either: “This report is not the place to pursue these highly contested strands, but they cannot be ignored.” It seems the Royal Society are not completely comfortable with their new stance. We still need to try and de-couple economic growth and resource use, they argue. But they then argue that in the long run this won”t be possible.

Where the report doesn”t venture is interesting. The authors stop short of exploring the ethical dimension of rich countries” historical consumption. They seem happy to accept that the world”s richest must consume less to allow the world”s poorest to consume more. What they don”t argue is that there is an ethical obligation to do this because historically the wealthy nations have enjoyed the benefits of high consumption. Where the report dares not tread is to suggest that high consumption in rich countries might have caused poverty in other countries. The authors do not draw a connection between how rich countries got rich and why poor countries are still poor. This is important because exploring these arguments adds force to arguments that wealthy countries should sharply reduce the amount they consume. Saying that rich countries should reduce consumption to redress an unequal situation is one thing. Saying that this unjust situation has been persistent for centuries is quite another. Suggesting that high consumption by the rich might have contributed to the desperate situation of the world”s poorest is more powerful still.

Still, we should be pleased that the Royal Society have made the leap of accepting consumption in developed countries has to be addressed. Their tentative forays into questioning economic growth are also interesting. Even though the report does not fully explore the ethical implications of wealthy nation”s historical consumption the report will hopefully make space for these debates to enter the mainstream.

PIRC working on animation about our carbon omissions

Working with leading animator Leo Murray and acclaimed journalist George Monbiot, PIRC is putting together a short, snappy animation to explain the scandal of the UK”s outsourced emissions. The animation forms part of an ongoing project by PIRC to ensure the UK’s outsourced emissions are properly tackled by the Government.

Leo Murray is a leading British animator and climate activist. Besides being heavily involved in environmental activism over the past decade, he was lead animator on climate blockbuster The Age of Stupid, and writer and director of acclaimed animated short on the threat of runaway warming, Wake Up, Freak Out – Then Get a Grip (

PIRC are delighted to have been granted funding by Artists” Project Earth (APE) and a number of other foundations to produce the animation. Watch this space for more details as we get closer to completion and launch!

Media round-up: ECC demand coalition tackle outsourced emissions

The report of the Energy & Climate Change select committee – whose findings we’ve summarised here – has been receiving some good media coverage:

It’s now incumbent on the Government to respond with a convincing plan of action…

PIRC Radio 5 Live interview

Insomniac followers of PIRC may have already caught this, but at around 3am last night Radio 5 live’s programme ‘Up All Night’ featured a slot on the topic of outsourced carbon emissions by Julian O’Hallaran – including some (fortunately pre-recorded) comments by PIRC’s Guy Shrubsole.

You can listen again here (relevant programme is 2 hrs 5 mins in).

Select committee calls on coalition to tackle Britain’s outsourced emissions

This piece originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.

The influential Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Parliamentary select committee have today demanded the government take responsibility for the UK’s still-rising emissions, stating Britain “has to address its consumption if it is to make an effective contribution to a global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions”.

Whilst on paper, Britain’s carbon emissions have fallen by 19% since 1990, when measured on a consumption basis – by factoring in imported goods that the UK consumes – they have risen by 20% over the past 20 years.

As the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRCshowed through an investigation using Freedom of Information requests last year, ministers and civil servants have been fully aware of this extremely concerning trend for many years, yet done nothing – content to maintain a conspiracy of silence.

Read more