Emissions from abroad account for nearly half of UK's carbon footprint

Nearly half of the UK's true carbon footprint is derived from emissions generated overseas, according to a report released today by the WWF.


The report highlights how clothing, processed foods and electronics are produced abroad and imported purely to satisfy UK demand, but that the emissions released are counted as belonging to the manufacturing country.

The WWF found that 46% of the UK’s carbon footprint derives from these overseas emissions, which are not currently covered by national reporting, or included in the country’s net zero target.

It also found that, between 1990 and 2016, emissions within the UK’s borders reduced by 41% while the consumption-based footprint only dropped 15%, mainly due to goods and services coming from abroad.

“We need to be honest about our emissions – that means tackling those in the goods and services we buy in, not just the ones we make here,” said Dr Stephen Cornelius, chief climate change adviser at the WWF

“As an influential nation which has shown it can act as a global leader on climate change before, we have the ability to take responsibility for emissions that are down to UK demand alone.

“The UK has committed to net zero emissions and a credible plan to achieve this is one that tackles emissions based on what we consume, as well as what we produce.”

The report also reveals that heating homes, car fuel, electricity, construction, agriculture and air travel account for 46% of the UK's carbon footprint, which includes domestic emissions and those imported from abroad.

However, only car fuel, electricity and heating homes are associated with sectors which are expected to fully decarbonise domestically by 2050 under the UK Committee on Climate Change’s pathway to decarbonisation.

Additionally, the report highlights the importance of addressing carbon-intensive imports, such as animal feed and fossil fuels.

“Increasingly, the impact of our consumption occurs outside the UK, creating a situation where our emissions inside the country reduce while emissions associated with imports increase,” said report co-author professor John Barrett from the University of Leeds.

“It is essential that the UK commits to reducing its emissions both inside and outside the UK to adequately respond to the climate crisis.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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