Pollution ‘outsourcing’ masks real picture, claims ECCC

A decline in UK carbon emissions is the result of pollution 'outsourcing' overseas - rather than the consequence of the Government's climate change policy, a group of MPs has warned.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee’s (ECCC) new report on Consumption Based Emissions Reporting, which was released today (April 18), claims that the UK’s record on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is not as good as government figures suggest.

Instead, the report states that carbon emissions from imported goods are rising faster than the UK is cutting GHG emissions. Rebuking figures from DECC, which show that the UK’s GHG emissions declined by nearly 20% between 1990-2009, the report cites research from Defra which shows CO2 emissions were some 20% higher in 2009 – if consumption based emissions from imports are included.

As a result, the committee warns that UK consumption is having an impact on global emissions and climate change and calls for the Government to be “straightforward” about the impact that UK consumption is having on the world’s climate. It also urged the Government to be more upfront about the UK’s pollution outsourcing and recognise the growth in the carbon footprint of consumer imports.

ECCC chair Tim Yeo MP said that government needs to take a “more honest approach” to its emissions reporting, which he believes “could help to break the stalemate” in current practices.

He said: “Successive governments have claimed to be cutting climate-changing emissions, but in fact a lot of pollution has simply been outsourced overseas.”

He added that an increase in UK imports of consumer goods is responsible for pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries such as China, saying that the UK can “scarcely lecture countries like China for failing to sign up to binding emissions cuts when much of their pollution is produced making products for us and other high-consumption economies”.

The MPs have now called on the Government to implement policies which help counter the increase in consumer led emissions, as well as secure a binding global agreement on carbon reduction.

The report concluded that DECC should no longer rely solely on territorial emissions as its primary policy driver – which it claims fails to offer a complete picture of the UK’s impact on the global climate. Instead, it suggests it should consider how consumption-based emissions data can be incorporated into its policy making process. However, DECC has claimed that it would be too difficult to count consumption based emissions.

The Carbon Trust, which gave evidence to the Select Committee, welcomed the ECCC report, saying it “throws the carbon debate on its head”.

Carbon Trust strategy manager Simon Retallack, said: “It fundamentally redefines what the actual carbon footprint of the UK is. The Carbon Trust has been arguing for some time now that the established production-based way of measuring our carbon emissions does not take account of the fact that a significant proportion of our emissions occur overseas, especially in countries like China, through the manufacture of products that we import.

He added: “This new way of looking at carbon, through the lens of overall consumption, wherever it originates from, should act as an eye opener for policy makers, companies and for us all as individuals working to reduce our carbon emissions.”

Wildlife group WWF-UK agreed, but added that reporting of consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions should sit alongside, rather than replace, the existing approach to measuring emissions.

WWF-UK head of climate change Keith Allott said that the UK has “a huge responsibility to show leadership” on the issue, arguing that it is “not credible for the UK to claim progress towards a sustainable, green economy” unless the impacts of both UK territorial and consumption emissions are addressed together.

He added: “However you measure the UK’s emissions, it’s clear that a lot more needs to be done to reduce them – through improving energy efficiency and decarbonising the power sector through renewables, and also by reducing and managing our consumption.”

Carys Matthews

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