Over the couple of decades, the EU’s carbon emissions have fallen, with some countries reporting fairly significant declines. This is what was hoped for, and indeed promised, through the Kyoto Agreement. As the world meets again to try to come to a new international climate agreement, the EU will be keen to champion its successes.
But there is a problem here. The 90s and 00s were also the decades of globalisation, when industry moved South to take advantage of lower wages. The heaviest and most polluting industries were particularly likely to move, escaping tightening pollution regulations.
Much of what Europe consumes has been produced overseas, and thus the carbon emissions have occurred elsewhere. But they are ultimately EU emissions, as we are responsible for them. So what happens if you factor in the ‘embedded’ emissions of goods imported into EU? (And to be fair, remove the embedded emissions of things exported).
As this graph from the Footprint Network shows, once embedded emissions are included, the EU’s emissions have been rising, not falling. They dropped with the recession, and then starting rising again. As they point out, those countries that look at first glance to have the lowest emissions – like Sweden or Switzerland – are quite likely to have high embedded emissions.
You can probably guess where production is outsourced to, but previous research by the Carnegie Institution has mapped emissions from net exporters to net importers.
In a globalised world, we need to ensure that international agreements understand emissions in their global context, and include embedded emissions in their accounting. Without the full picture, developed countries with service-based economies can simply launder their emissions through developing countries.