Carbon emissions 'outsourced' to developing countries

March 8, 2010
China is by far the largest "exporter" of carbon dioxide emissions, as seen in this map of the net flow of emissions embodied in trade among the major exporting and importing countries. Arrows indicate direction and magnitude of flow; numbers are megatons (millions of tons). Credit: Steven Davis/Carnegie Institution for Science

A new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution finds that over a third of carbon dioxide emissions associated with consumption of goods and services in many developed countries are actually emitted outside their borders. Some countries, such as Switzerland, "outsource" over half of their carbon dioxide emissions, primarily to developing countries. The study finds that, per person, about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide are consumed in the U.S. but produced somewhere else. For Europeans, the figure can exceed four tons per person. Most of these emissions are outsourced to developing countries, especially China.

"Instead of looking at only in terms of what is released inside our borders, we also looked at the amount of carbon dioxide released during the production of the things that we consume," says co-author Ken Caldeira, a researcher in the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.

Caldeira and lead author Steven Davis, also at Carnegie, used published trade data from 2004 to create a global model of the flow of products across 57 industry sectors and 113 countries or regions. By allocating to particular products and sources, the researchers were able to calculate the net emissions "imported" or "exported" by specific countries.

"Just like the that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China," says Davis. "On the flip side, nearly a quarter of the emissions produced in China are ultimately exported."

Over a third of the carbon dioxide emissions linked to good and services consumed in many European countries actually occurred elsewhere, the researchers found. In Switzerland and several other small countries, outsourced emissions exceeded the amount of carbon dioxide emitted within national borders.

The United States is both a major importer and a major exporter of emissions embodied in trade. The net result is that the U.S. outsources about 11% of total consumption-based emissions, primarily to the developing world.

The researchers point out that regional climate policy needs to take into account emissions embodied in trade, not just domestic emissions.

"Our analysis of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with in each country just states the facts," says Caldeira. "This could be taken into consideration when developing emissions targets for these countries, but that's a decision for policy-makers. One implication of emissions outsourcing is that a lot of the consumer products that we think of as being relatively carbon-free may in fact be associated with significant carbon dioxide emissions."

"Where CO2 emissions occur doesn't matter to the climate system," adds Davis. "Effective policy must have global scope. To the extent that constraints on developing countries' emissions are the major impediment to effective international climate policy, allocating responsibility for some portion of these emissions to final consumers elsewhere may represent an opportunity for compromise."

Explore further: U.S. greenhouse emissions up 1.7 percent

More information: The report is published online in the March 1, 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Mar 08, 2010
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3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 08, 2010
this is why carbon cap and trade shemes are all bunk. they are a market manipulation tool promoted by bankers and industrialists as progressive regulation. this is just another wolf policy in sheeps clothing.

simple and transparent regulation = honest and effective regulation . otherwise hypocrites oath demands lesse' fair policy if we are to play doctor with planet earth.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 08, 2010
Will the truth of the Prius now out? Will the pious out the Prius?
1 / 5 (5) Mar 08, 2010
@zevkirsh: Can cap and trade not be extended to include the carbon costs that are indicated by this article? Would that not actually be part of its intention, as they've admitted that cap and trade is a malleable legislation.
2 / 5 (7) Mar 08, 2010
JayK the reason you support carbon tax is that you get your money from the government and the more they tax working people, the more the government can transfer to lazy people.
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 08, 2010
To me the whole Cap and Trade is nothing more than taking the garbage dump and putting it in someone else's backyard. I wish it was more like a Cap and Gain in that, to make it easier to start, let's cap at todays 2010 level and each year lower it by 1%. If you produce under the cap you gain tax rebates, if you exceed the cap you get a tax penalty. The greater under the limit, the bigger the rebate and vise versa.
Mar 09, 2010
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3 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2010
i see climat change as a present and clear danger to our civilisation and the majority of the biosphere but the present institional industrial capilalist system is totally inadequite to deal with this threat. actually the commercial and miliitary industrial complex has actively rubbished the threat we as a civilisation are having on the planet.
the whole cap and trade system seems crazy, allowing the polluters to continue while shifting the cost onto ordinary people, just another capitalist ploy to carry on as usual.
so sadly short sighted, we seem so shafted by the power elites that control our resources. these people really don't seem to behave like humans
not rated yet Mar 12, 2010
@zevkirsh: Can cap and trade not be extended to include the carbon costs that are indicated by this article? Would that not actually be part of its intention, as they've admitted that cap and trade is a malleable legislation.

If you do that then you serve to prevent any progress whatsoever. The poor countries stay overly poor while the rich countries stagnate with a growing population of migrant owrkers looking for jobs.

Cap and trade doesn't work. If you must put a system in place you make it a compliance and fee system as has worked with other gasses and aerosols.

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