CCC report: Imports increase UK’s CO2 emissions by 10%

The UK's carbon footprint has increased by 10% over the past two decades, as growth in imported emissions has more than offset the 19% reduction in production emissions, according to a new report

Released today, the report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) suggests that as a result, the UK is now one of the world’s largest net importers of emissions, with a carbon footprint that is around 80% larger than its production emissions, reflecting the relatively small share of manufacturing in UK GDP.

The increase in imported emissions was largely a result of rising incomes which increased demand for manufactured goods, which are, due to globalisation, now mostly produced elsewhere.

CCC’s analysis shows that offshoring of industry in response to low-carbon policies has had at most a minor impact in reducing production emissions, and the carbon footprint would have increased more had production emissions not been reduced.

It adds that the fall in production emissions was not due to significant offshoring in response to low-carbon policies but fell due to reductions in emissions from power generation and non-CO2 gases, for example methane from waste.

There has also been a reduction in industry emissions which reflects a falling carbon intensity of production due to energy efficiency improvement and fuel switching, industrial restructuring related to broader processes of globalisation, and more recently the impact of recession.

However, the CCC suggests that to achieve the UK’s climate objective, there is a need for a global deal to substantially cut global emissions over the next decades, which it claims would see the UK’s carbon footprint fall.

It states that an ambitious and comprehensive global deal driving new policies will be essential so that global emissions are reduced in a manner consistent with the climate objective.

Commenting on the report, director of innovation and policy at the Carbon Trust, James Wilde, said: “While we agree with the report’s assertion that a global deal to drive emission reductions is important, it is our experience that such a deal will never replace action at the local level by Governments, business and consumers.

“Businesses can benefit by measuring and reducing the carbon embodied in their supply chains and by communicating this to consumers through product carbon labelling. Consumers would then be more empowered to buy low carbon products wherever they are produced in the world,” he added.

Highlighting the industries most affected by low-carbon policies, the report looked specifically at the energy intensive sectors, including the manufacturing industry, which is an important source of carbon emissions.

In 2011, industry accounted for 164 million tonnes (Mt) CO2 or 36% of UK CO2 emissions, covering both direct and indirect sources. Emissions in this sector are concentrated among energy-intensive sectors, which together accounted for 50% of industrial emissions in 2011.

In the CCC’s December 2012 Energy Prices and Bills report, it estimated that energy costs due to
low-carbon policies would rise by 20-25% from 2011 to 2020 for industrial users. Assuming a 3% share in total costs, the CCC estimates that this will result in total cost increases of around 0.6%.

Commenting on the report, The Manufacturers’ Organisation’s (EEF) head of climate & environment policy, Gareth Stace, said: “This report supports manufacturing’s clear message to government that unilateral climate change policies are adding costs that are not borne by our competitors.

“Rising energy costs are a growing problem for many manufacturers, with the government’s own figures showing them escalating between now and 2020. The government must ensure that cost effectiveness is at the heart of its approach to securing investment in new low carbon energy,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie