Defra report into UK carbon footprint slammed

A leading environmental commentator has disputed claims that government policy has helped reduce the UK's carbon footprint - instead arguing a sluggish economic is the cause.

Green transport company Carbon Voyage founder James Swanston told edie that while a new Defra report into carbon emissions gives the impression the UK’s carbon footprint is being reduced that “quite the opposite is true”. He argues that the 2008-2009 dip “reflects the downward cycle in the economy rather than successful government policy”.

As part of the Defra report, the carbon emissions associated with UK consumption between 1990 and 2008 were analysed to determine how carbon emissions relating to goods and services produced and consumed by UK businesses have changed.

It concluded that the UK’s carbon footprint fell between 2008 and 2009 – but remains some 20% higher than it was in 1990 – as a result of reduced production and import growth.

A decline in production and growth in services were found to be the main contributory factors for CO2 growth, while figures show that import growth has caused the UK’s carbon footprint to increase by nearly 80% between 1990 and 2009.

However, Mr Swanston warned that “factors contributing to lower emissions are reduced construction activity and lower use of heavy goods vehicles, which are fundamentally cyclical and will rise again when the economy picks up.

“It is only natural that carbon dioxide emissions generated domestically and embedded in imported goods will fall in a deteriorating economy. Take macro factors out of the equation and emissions are almost certainly rising.”

As a result, he said there “continues to be a major disconnect in government and business about the benefits of a low-carbon economy”.

Emissions embedded in imports by British businesses more than doubled over the period – increasing by 128%.

Meanwhile, UK production emissions, including in manufacturing, transport, international aviation and shipping, fell by 14% during the period.

According to Defra, this reflects a growing trend in the UK to import relatively carbon intensive goods, as well as a wider variety of products.

Carys Matthews

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