European countries are 'outsourcing' almost a third of their carbon dioxide emissions to less industrialised countries, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science found that a significant proportion of the carbon emissions associated with the consumption of goods and services in industrialised countries are actually emitted outside their borders.
This 'outsourcing' of carbon emissions means countries like the UK, which annually imports goods responsible for more than 250 million tonnes of CO2, are underestimating their real carbon footprint.
In the case of Switzerland, outsourced emissions actually exceeded the amount of carbon dioxide emitted inside the country in the global trade data from 2004 used by the researchers.
'Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China,' said lead author Steven Davis, from the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology.
Fellow author Ken Caldeira said countries should be measuring the carbon dioxide emissions not only inside their borders but also the amount released during the 'production of the things that we consume'.
'One implication of emissions outsourcing is that a lot of the consumer products that we think of as being relatively carbon-free may in fact be associated with significant carbon dioxide emissions,' said Caldeira.
Both researchers said industrialised countries like the UK and US must admit this fact when it comes to international agreements on cutting emissions.
'Where CO2 emissions occur doesn’t matter to the climate system. Effective policy must have global scope. To the extent that constraints on developing countries’ emissions are the major impediment to effective international climate policy, allocating responsibility for some portion of these emissions to final consumers elsewhere may represent an opportunity for compromise,' they said.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Professor Edgar Hertwich and colleague Glen Peters have produced a website, 'The Carbon footprint of nations' where you can check on the carbon footprint of individual country's imports and exports.
Britain exporting CO2 emissions abroad, says scientist
Domestic carbon emission reductions are being offset by increased emissions in countries like India and China through the consumption of imported goods and services