Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Outsourcing Climate Change: UK Carbon Consumption

A recent BBC report ( highlights how tricky it is to be certain that 'Green' policies are actually doing what people think they are. The report based on the report from a committee of MPs, the Energy and Climate Change Committee, looking at the reduction of carbon consumption (Carbon-Based Emissions Reporting) (please note this is the address for the report but I can't get it to work properly).

Carbon dioxide emissions from the UK have fallen by 19% since 1990 BUT the UK carbon footprint has risen by 20% since 1990. Now ignoring trying to equate the two exactly, the question is why? The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said: "We account for our emissions according to international rules that are followed by all countries that are signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, and that are the basis for international negotiations on climate change." It believes it is too difficult to calculate consumption-based emissions or to verify the numbers internationally. Likewise, the department views it as difficult to negotiate global treaties on this basis. Why?

The UKs emissions have fallen because we consume products that are produced in other countries. The emissions associated with these products is not counted as part of the UK emissions. Our pollution is outsourced to rapidly expanding economies such as China. So the problem becomes one of economics. Calculating emissions based on consumption would highlight the significance of trade for carbon production. Without trade economic development would stagnate, the impressive economic growth of China could be stopped in its tracks by an international agreement based on consumption of carbon. Likewise, the UK would have to reduce its standard of living, no longer able to import cheap goods. The international economic system is complexly interwoven and changing one aspect of it affects all parts of it. Outsourcing pollution may be a short-term way to achieve national targets whilst criticising the countries that supply your goods for their environmentally unfriendly way. The longer term problem remains. How do you reduce pollution globally when consumption continues to increase globally.


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