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UK committee warns of import impact on CO2

18 April 2012, 15:17

London - Britain should consider the effect of imports on greenhouse gas emissions when deciding climate policy and explore setting national consumption-based climate targets, a UK Parliament committee said on Wednesday.

The UK government currently calculates the growth or decline in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions based on territorial emissions from, for example, UK power stations and transport.

Data from the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) shows territorial CO2 emissions fell by around 20 percent between 1990 and 2009.

However, research by another government division, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, shows that CO2 emissions were 20% higher over the same period when emissions from imported goods are included.

"There is a clear divergence between the UK's territorial emissions and its consumption-based emissions," said the report by the UK's Energy and Climate Change Committee.

"The rate at which the UK's consumption-based emissions have increased have far offset any emissions savings from the decrease in territorial emissions. This means that the UK is contributing to a net increase in global emissions."

The fall in territorial emissions was not due to the government's climate policy, the report added.

Instead, it resulted from a switch from coal to gas-fired electricity which started in the early 1990s and the move of manufacturing industries away from the UK.

However, the shift of manufacturing industries abroad has also contributed to a rise in consumption emissions as the UK imported goods it previously manufactured domestically, the report said.

Climate change policy

CO2 emissions from imports almost doubled to 331 million tonnes in 2009 - accounting for just under half of the UK's total carbon footprint - from 166 million tonnes in 1990.

The committee urged the government to consider options for including import emissions data in its climate policy and setting consumption-based emissions targets at a national level.

"The government should commission the Committee on Climate Change [government advisors] to examine how the UK could incorporate consumption emissions accounting into our climate change policy," said Tim Yeo, chairman of the energy and climate change committee.

In response, DECC said it accounts for its emissions according to international rules which are followed by all countries which are signed up to the global emissions-cutting pact, the Kyoto Protocol.

"While embedded emissions can provide useful insights into how to decarbonise, such figures are difficult to calculate accurately, uncertain and not easily verified," a DECC spokesperson told Reuters.

"It would therefore be difficult to negotiate a global emission reduction treaty on this basis, and an attempt could delay for decades an effective solution to the problem of climate change," he added.

- Reuters


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