Stop offshoring emissions to poorer countries, Fairtrade Foundation urges Government

Almost half of the emissions linked to UK consumption are generated overseas, a new Fairtrade Foundation analysis has revealed, with the organization urging Boris Johnson to do more to support the net-zero transition internationally.

Stop offshoring emissions to poorer countries, Fairtrade Foundation urges Government

Image: Fairtrade Foundation

The Foundation’s report is entitled ‘A climate of crises: Farmers, our food and the fight for justice’, and has been published to mark Fairtrade Fortnight.

The report reveals that some 46% of the emissions linked to consumption are created overseas, with a significant proportion of these emissions generated across the value chains of raw materials from agri-food. Emissions from this source are higher than more than 170 of the world’s 195 nations annually.

While the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) does quantify these emissions, they are not included in accounting towards the Climate Change Act – similarly to the situation with international shipping and aviation. The Fairtrade Foundation is urging Boris Johnson to rethink this approach, now that the Act has been updated to include a legally binding net-zero target for 2050.

The Foundation’s argument is that, while the UK has urged other nations to set more ambitious climate targets ahead of COP26, it is undermining their ability to do so by offshoring emissions in pursuit of cheap imports. This trend not only hinders the global net-zero transition, the Foundation argues, but contributes to other major issues such as biodiversity loss and social inequalities within and between nations.

“Although the UK is on a welcome path to net-zero emissions, if we don’t own up to our hidden emissions, our climate policy will never fully succeed in driving down our true footprint, and we will fail the small-scale producers overseas who grow the food we Brits love to consume,” Fairtrade Foundation chief executive Mike Gidney said.

“Fairtrade Foundation believes these invisible emissions are, ultimately, the UK’s responsibility: they take a heavy toll on the farmers who keep our shelves stocked and fridges full, and who are disproportionately affected by climate change.”

The report’s main ask of Johnson is a formal commitment to include international production, aviation and shipping in carbon budgets and to set out “clear” policy pathways to reduce emissions from these sources. This has already been recommended by the Climate Change Committee (CC). Ministers initially declined to act on the CCC’s recommendations but may change track in light of the body’s new advice on the Sixth Carbon Budget. This advice has already led to the reconsideration of a proposed coking coal mine in Cumbria.

Policy snapshot: Where are we now?

This week, headlines are dominated by the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

But, in the green economy, many are still waiting with bated breath for the UK’s roadmap for delivering against its net-zero target. While some green policy packages have been confirmed since the 2050 deadline was enshrined in law, many businesses and investors have said that more sector-specific, short-term clarity is needed for delivery.

The roadmap is due to be published in the latter half of this year, ahead of COP26. It will summarise the key points from policies that are already out, including the Ten Point Plan, Energy White Paper and National Infrastructure Strategy, as well as forthcoming strategies, including the Heat and Buildings Strategy and Hydrogen Strategy.

Ministers have not yet confirmed whether a strategy for addressing emissions that have historically been excluded from the Climate Change Act accounting will be included.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Ian Byrne says:

    Completely agree that we need to account for and consider the implication of imported emissions. At a consumer level, even voluntary carbon labelling would help – for example I (as a professional in the subject) have no real feeling for the relative emissions associated with a British apple, a South African apple, or a Costa Rican banana. And if I were to buy a punnet of grapes at this time of year (which I deliberately don’t) have they been air-freighted? Where is the land/surface split on different fruit and veg, for example?

    Ironically, by banning the Cumbria coal mine and relying more on imported steel or coking coal, we are likely to increase imported emissions.

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