climate change

Britain’s outsourced carbon

There are lots of ways to reduce CO2 emissions. You can move to renewable energy, adopt public transport, or pursue energy efficiency. But there’s another much easier strategy: offshore your most carbon intensive industries and import goods instead.

That’s what Britain has done, though not as a deliberate decarbonisation measure, mind you. It’s a happy byproduct of globalisation and the move towards a service based economy. When production moves overseas, so do the emissions. We get the benefit of the products, and the environmental cost falls elsewhere. We don’t even need to worry about the shipping, because those emissions occur in-between countries and nobody counts those.

The Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds has calculated Britain’s consumption emissions versus our territorial emissions. This is the result:

uk consumption emissions

What this means is that Britain’s total carbon emissions are 50% larger than the reported figure. If our real priority is to stop climate change, rather than just meet a political target, then that is a cause for concern. Especially if that is repeated in other developed countries.

The other thing to notice is that, on the plus side, those consumption emissions have dropped since the financial crisis and haven’t rebounded. Even though the economy is growing again, the upward trend hasn’t been resumed – not yet at least. Perhaps it will. Or perhaps it will stay lower, if the global economy continues with its anticipated slowdown.

There’s lots more to explore on the SRI’s minisite Exploring the UK’s Carbon Footprint.



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