Is it time for the UK to account for ‘carbon omissions’?

By Ed King

Officially UK and European greenhouse gas emissions are declining, a major success story for the region’s raft of stringent environmental policies.

EU targets for 2020, which include a 20% reduction in carbon emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency and a 20% boost in renewables’ share of the energy mix have all been met.

In fact, progress towards these targets has gone so well the EU is planning to adopt a 40% emissions reduction target for 2030.

Meanwhile China is busy churning out greenhouse gases. Statistics from 2012 indicate they are growing rapidly, increasing by 9%.

Chinese per capita emissions, at 7.2 tonnes, are now just below the EU level, so high that EU climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says the theory Beijing can claim it has less responsibility to address the issue than richer nations is now discredited.

So it seems while the EU is leading the low carbon revolution, others are falling behind. But does it tell the full picture?

A new animation (see below) narrated by environmental campaigner George Monbiot suggests that instead of reducing global emissions, the EU has merely exported them overseas.

It claims UK emissions alone have actually risen 20% in the last 20 years, contradicting the government which says they have declined 19% since 1990.

The UK Energy and Climate Change Committee appears to agree.

In a 2012 submission to the government it said the following: “There is a clear divergence between the UK’s territorial emissions and its consumption-based emissions.

“Furthermore, the rate at which the UK’s territorial emissions have fallen has been outpaced by the growth in its consumption emissions. We are concerned that the UK could be meeting its domestic carbon budgets at the expense of the global carbon budget.”

It added: “Discounting the effects of the [2008-09] recession, the UK’s consumption-based emissions have been on an upward trend since 1990.”

This analysis was rejected by the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change.

In a 2012 Parliamentary Committee meeting last year UK Minister Greg Barker argued that to change methodologies now could damage the chances of an effective climate deal in 2015.

“It would be in the current circumstances difficult or well nigh impossible to negotiate a global emissions reduction treaty on the basis of consumption based emissions, and we would almost certainly fail if we tried to do that,” he said.

“The attempt to do that could delay an effective solution on climate change potentially for years or even decades, given how slow the UNFCCC process works.”

Note he did not refute the idea of consumption based measurements, merely suggesting they would complicate an already murky process.

But it does suggest that for a global climate deal to really work, the issue of consumption in the developed and developing world will have to be addressed, however politically painful that could be.

Read more on: China | Climate finance | Climate politics | EU | |