I’ve written before about how official national carbon accounts don’t capture the whole picture. They focus on carbon emissions generated within a country’s borders, through housing, transport, etc. What’s missing is imports – if a product was made in another country, the greenhouse gases will have been emitted elsewhere. This distorts the global picture. Countries that run a big trade deficit look cleaner than they really are, while big exporters look dirtier than they are. NEF described this as a ‘carbon laundering‘, outsourcing production and emissions together, enjoying the goods and none of the responsibility.
This effect has proved hard to measure. Not every country keeps detailed enough accounts of material imports to work it out, and Britain has been fairly unusual in having clear figures that show our embedded emissions. However, a recent study maps the true carbon footprint of Europe, including embodied emissions. Britain doesn’t come out very well:
The report breaks countries down by region, as shown here, and there’s considerable variation across the country. A large part of that is down to income. Poorer regions simply spend less money, particularly on transport, which is 30% of Europe’s footprint. Local climate is also a big factor, and since this map shows household emissions, the average size of households matters too – larger households being more efficient from a climate change point of view.
Carbon Brief have lots more detail on this report and what we can learn from it, and you’ll find their analysis here.