Overseas goods push up Britain’s carbon footprint

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THE UK’s carbon footprint has grown by a tenth in the past two decades, the Westminster government’s climate advisers say.

The amount of emissions the country has produced domestically, for example from transport, power, heating and manufacturing, has fallen by about 20 per cent over two decades, the committee on climate change said.

But increased imports of goods, which create emissions during their manufacture in other countries, are pushing up the overall total of greenhouse gases for which the UK is responsible, a new report said.

Concerns that policies which aim to cut carbon emissions in the UK are pushing manufacturing overseas are unfounded, however, the report revealed.

The rise in imported emissions is down to rising incomes which increased demand for consumer goods that, as a result of globalisation, are mostly manufactured elsewhere.

The report also looked at the risk of pushing abroad industries which use large amounts of electricity as a result of policies to cut emissions that will drive up energy bills.

It found the risk is being managed by government policies and funding to protect energy-intensive industries, which are expected to increase household electricity bills by £5 by 2020.

Committee chief executive David Kennedy said: “We would not expect to see industry in the UK closed down in the future because of low-carbon policies.”

And despite the rise in the carbon footprint as a result of imports, more than half of the UK’s emissions are caused domestically, so it is appropriate to take action to cut greenhouse gases in this country, the committee said.

The government’s advisers also said the best way to bring down the imported emissions was through pushing for a global deal to tackle climate change, which would bring down emissions in other countries.

Meeting the UK’s legally binding targets to cut emissions and a reduction in imported emissions as a result of a strong inter­national climate deal would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by about 70 per cent over coming decades.

Mr Kennedy said: “The focus on reducing UK production emissions remains appropriate, given that these form a major part of our carbon footprint, and given available policy levers.

“Clearly, we also need to reduce imported emissions. This highlights the fundamental need to reduce global emissions in order to achieve climate
objectives, and to do this through a new global deal.”

The report also examines the carbon footprint of shale gas extracted through “fracking” and finds it has similar emissions to other natural gas.

Shale gas could play a role in replacing imported gas, for example for heating, but the report does not back a “dash for gas”, instead of investment in low-carbon power sources.

The report confirms key low-carbon technologies, including electric vehicles, nuclear power and wind farms, do deliver significant carbon savings.

And it finds that tech­nology to capture carbon from fossil­-fuel power stations and store them permanently underground have higher emissions across its lifetime than nuclear or renewables.