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Embedded Emissions

Embedded Emissions

What about all of those emissions attributed to countries like China, that are making the goods that we buy; or those to do with international shipping and aviation? When these are taken into account the CO2 emissions, that should be attributed to the UK, have shown a worryingly increasing trend: from 650 million tonnes CO2 in 1992 to over 750 million tonnes CO2 in 2004. That is a 15% increase and it means that our actual CO2 emissions are about 37% higher than the figures discussed so far!

All of the GHG emissions discussed so far are those reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These are all emissions from domestic use. They do not include international shipping and aviation; and they do not include those from international trade. It has been noted by sceptics of the Kyoto Protocol that "developed nations such as the UK are simply 'exporting' carbon intensive industries to developing nations such as China".

To be fair we should be taking into account the balance of imports versus exports of carbon emissions. In an attempt to deal with this issue, DEFRA commissioned the Stockholm Environment Institute to write a report on the real scale of our emissions. The report is "Development of an Embedded Carbon Emissions Indicator (PDF)" and the following graph summaries the findings.

  • The blue line shows the trend in our official CO2 emissions, as reported to UNFCCC. These are the same as those used in previous pages on emissions targets. In the period from 1990 to 2004 they fell by 5%.
  • The orange line shows the trend including emissions embedded in trade, aviation and shipping. This actually rose by 18% over the 14 years from 1990.
  • When new protocols are negotiated at the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009, hopefully some recognition will be made of these embedded emissions. However, that would of course move us out of the encouraging moral high ground of falling emissions and beating targets...
Emissions graph

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