Here in the UK, CO2 emissions fell by 19% between 1990 and 2008, but our carbon footprint, based on what we actually consume, grew by 20%. ‘How is that possible?’, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a bit like a kid’s balloon – squeeze it in one place and it just pops up somewhere else.
Essentially, richer countries like us are simply outsourcing our pollution overseas. Lower labour costs in countries like China mean we no longer need the CO2-producing industrialisation we used to have. We import and consume more and more goods and just point our fingers at China when anyone asks about the related carbon emissions. China is now the world’s factory.
China itself has cottoned on to this skewed methodology of carbon emission accounting. A recent study published in PNAS, the official journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences, reveals that China is outsourcing CO2 emissions within its own borders. Poorer areas such as Inner Mongolia produce 80% of emissions for goods consumed in richer coastal areas such as Beijing and Shanghai.
It is nothing short of farcical. The dislocation of industrialisation to emerging countries solves nothing in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has 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.” The Department believes it would be too difficult to negotiate a global reduction treaty on the basis of consumption-based emissions rather than production-based emissions. But, surely, this has to happen.
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