Imported Products Undo All Developed Countries' Emissions Reductions Since 1990

imported goods photo

Image: twicepix via flickr

Here's some news that should be obvious on some level, but is now backed up with the data to prove it: the cuts in carbon emissions that developed countries have made since 1990 have been cancelled out "many" times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries.We already knew that we've been outsourcing our carbon emissions for years. But the Guardian reports that research published earlier this week provides the "first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto protocol."

The authors of the study explain: "we developed a trade-linked global database for CO2 emissions covering 113 countries and 57 economic sectors from 1990 to 2008."

Emissions are accounted for in the country where the production of goods takes place—not by the countries actually consuming the goods. It's an important distinction because without the demand, the supply would not be manufactured in the first place.

The Guardian continues:

According to standard data, developed countries can claim to have reduced their collective emissions by almost 2% between 1990 and 2008. But once the carbon cost of imports have been added to each country, and exports subtracted - the true change has been an increase of 7%. If Russia and Ukraine - which cut their CO2 emissions rapidly in the 1990s due to economic collapse - are excluded, the rise is 12%...

Much of the increase in emissions in the developed world is due to the US, which promised a 7% cut under Kyoto but then did not to ratify the protocol. Emissions within its borders increased by 17% between 1990 and 2008 - and by 25% when imports and exports are factored in.

Take a look at China for perhaps the starkest example. For all the talk about how that nation is rising quickly in the ranks of global emissions producers, "its footprint drops by almost a fifth when its imports and exports are taken into account, putting it firmly behind the US," again from the Guardian.

How do the researchers propose this loophole in how global emissions are calculated be fixed? "We suggest that countries monitor emission transfers via international trade, in addition to territorial emissions, to ensure progress toward stabilization of global greenhouse gas emissions."

More on the IPCC and global emissions targets:
Climate Change Is A Threat To Global Security, Says Pachauri Of IPCC
Focus on Green Economic Development in Developing Countries, Not Just Emission Reductions: IPCC Chair
US Emission Reduction Efforts Inadequate: IPCC Chair and Lord Stern Play Good Cop-Bad Cop
IPCC Scientist Encourages Companies to Replace Travel With Video Conferencing

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