A report published by the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) has called on Government to be more straightforward about the impact that UK consumption is having on the world’s climate.

The report finds that “there is a clear divergence between the UK’s territorial emissions and its consumption-based emissions.” Whilst DECC figures show that the UK’s territorial emissions have been going down, consumption-based emissions, overall, have been going up. The result of which means that the UK is a net contributor to global emissions, contrary to DECC’s claims.

The MPs behind the report want DECC to be more straightforward about the impact that UK consumption has on the world’s climate. Tim Yeo MP, Chairman of the ECC, said: “Successive governments have claimed to be cutting climate-changing emissions, but in fact a lot of pollution has simply been outsourced overseas.”

“DECC likes to argue that the UK is only responsible for two percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, but Government’s own research shows this not to be the case. We get through more consumer goods than ever before in the UK and this is pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries like China.”

DECC’s official CO2 figures, based on territorial emissions within UK borders, show a 20 percent reduction between 1990 –2009. However, research commissioned by the Department for the environment Food and Rural Affairs, shows that, when consumption based emissions from imported goods are included, the UK’s CO2 emissions were actually 20 percent higher in 2009.

The report also claims that the fall in territorial emissions was not due to Government’s environmental policy but the result of a shift in manufacturing industries away from the UK, coupled with the switch to gas-fired electricity generation after the privatisation of the energy companies. Since 1990, CO2 emissions from imports have almost doubled from 166,000,000 tonnes of CO2 to 331,000,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2009.

The report calls for Government to recognise the growth in the UK’s consumption-based emissions in order to “continue (the UK’s) lead on climate policy.” The MPs believe that acknowledging UK consumption is driving up territorial emissions in other countries will allow the UK to increase its leverage over those emissions in order to help secure binding global agreements on carbon cuts.

Yeo added: “The UK can scarcely lecture countries like China for failing to sign up to binding emissions cuts when much of their pollution is produced making products for us and other high-consumption economies.”

“We are not saying that consumption emissions should form the basis of a new global climate treaty, but a more honest approach about our contribution to rising CO2 levels could help to break the stalemate.” 

The report suggests that relying exclusively on territorial emissions as the primary policy driver is inaccurate and does not reflect the UK’s true carbon footprint. The paper advises Ministers to explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data into the policy making process and set emissions targets on a consumption-basis at the national level.

Friends of the Earth's Head of Campaigns, Andrew Pendleton echoed the report’s sentiments, stating: “One of the main reasons why nations such as China have soaring carbon emissions is because they are making goods to sell to rich Western countries – this report highlights the UK's role in creating this pollution.

“Government can't continue to turn a blind eye to the damaging impact that our hunger for overseas products has on our climate – we need to tackle the problem, not shift it abroad. Ministers must come up with a strategy to ensure we cut all the emissions pumped out on our behalf – beginning with a requirement on firms to reveal the real climate impact of all their products. The impact of UK consumption goes far wider than just climate change.”

In the past DECC has claimed that it would be too difficult to count consumption-based emissions. However, the report highlights several local authorities who are already using consumption data to inform policy making. Researchers for DEFRA have also calculated the UK’s consumption impact with only a small margin of uncertainty.

The independent Committee on Climate Change has told the MPs behind the report that it would welcome the opportunity to explore the implications that consumption-based emissions might have for the UK’s carbon budgets, and that it could undertake such work after it publishes its fourth progress report on the carbon budget in June 2012.

Yeo concluded: “Without a complete picture of the UK’s impact on the global climate, DECC runs the risk of designing energy and climate change policies that produce perverse unintended consequences. Government should commission the Committee on Climate Change to examine how the UK could incorporate consumption emissions accounting into our climate change policy.”

The full report can be found here.