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.
A version of this piece, by Alex Randall and Guy Shrubsole, first appeared on Liberal Conspiracy.
The news that global emissions continue to skyrocket is a solemn reminder that climate change, though absent from the headlines of late, remains the world’s most intractable and urgent problem.
One might think, given the government’s recent announcement of targets to cut Britain’s emissions in half by 2025, that we have our own house fully in order. Think again – the new targets contain a major loophole allowing our emissions to carry on going up, even while the government claim they are going down.
In yesterday’s Guardian, Sir David King, former Government Chief Scientist, called on rich nations to tackle the emissions they outsourced overseas:
Sir David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise at the University of Oxford and former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, said the emissions rise showed how developed countries had exported their greenhouse gases to the developing world. This is because the migration of heavy manufacturing industry to developing countries has raised emissions in emerging economies, while rich countries still benefit from the results as they buy back the manufactured goods. More emissions are associated with the manufacture of most modern goods than with their use… Forthcoming research led by King that sets out these problems in detail chimes with studies from the Carbon Trust and others that have found similar effects.
Today’s paper includes a piece by nef’s Andrew Simms who argues for the problem to be tackled head-on:
Stop using fantasy carbon accounting that allows rich countries to “offshore” their emissions. The current system dumps responsibility for the pollution created by manufacturing goods on the exporting country, not on the country that demanded and ultimately consumes the product. It allows countries like the UK to look much better than we really are, creating an illusion of progress and resulting in complacency.
George Monbiot’s Guardian column today focuses on the scandal of the UK’s outsourced emissions, with a plug for our ongoing investigation.
The Guardian’s Duncan Clark has today penned a piece on the Carbon Trust’s new data showing how UK carbon emissions will continue to rise when imports are factored in.
Asked for our response, we told him: “Until government starts accounting for outsourced emissions officially, it’s continuing to tell a convenient lie about the true scale of our carbon addiction.”
This piece was originally published on Left Food Forward.
The Carbon Trust has today released new data revealing how the UK’s total carbon emissions are likely to rise into the 2020s, despite legally-binding targets to cut domestic emissions by a third.
The figures, shown in the graph below and available for download here, have been calculated by including emissions embodied in the goods and services that the UK imports – often called ‘outsourced emissions’ – and adding these to the official tally of domestic emissions.
There’s been a flurry of media interest in outsourced emissions in recent weeks, here’s a quick round-up:
- The Guardian’s DataBlog have done some number-crunching on how international trade changes the picture of who’s responsible for emissions.
- They’ve also added to their Climate Change FAQ with an entry, ‘What are outsourced emissions?’
- It’s not just the lefty press covering this though – even the Economist has run a story on it.
- And nef’s Andrew Simms has done a piece attacking the current official emissions accounting system as being ‘mad as a hatter’.
This piece was originally published on the 10:10 blog.
Factoid of the day: China builds about 8 coal power stations a month. Lesser known fact: roughly 2-3 of these power stations are built to make stuff for us in the rest of the world to consume. That’s right: between a quarter and a third of China’s emissions are ultimately the responsibility of us shoppers in the west and elsewhere. China may be the world’s biggest emitter, but it is also the world’s workshop – meaning we’ve happily outsourced a big chunk of our carbon eastwards.
The UK’s total emissions are set to rise, PIRC can reveal – as shown in yet-to-be-published calculations by the government’s Carbon Trust.
Whilst on paper, Britain’s carbon emissions have declined, in reality they have grown – once emissions from imported goods are factored in. From a consumption perspective, the UK’s emissions have risen by 19% since 1990. New data from the Carbon Trust shows that by 2025 the UK’s total carbon footprint could actually be bigger than it is today, despite legally-binding targets to cut it by a third. Whilst domestic emissions will look smaller, almost half of the country’s footprint will be unseen, as the emissions will originate overseas.
A striking new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists finds that rich countries’ emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol have been far outweighed by the growth in outsourced emissions driven by rising consumption. Duncan Clark at the Guardian reports.
The BBC’s Roger Harrabin has done a piece today on the UK’s outsourced emissions, including extracts from an interview with PIRC’s Guy Shrubsole.