I noticed this interesting figure from The Guardian’s Datablog last week which puts an interesting question out there: does a ‘national’ emissions target really drive the emission reduction policies that are needed?
(Note the data is based on other studies, including this paper)
It is often remarked that there has been good progress in the UK with respect to meeting emissions reductions targets set by Kyoto. In the strictest sense, this cannot be disputed. Emissions incurred within the borders of the UK have indeed reduced since 1990. However the data above clearly demonstrates that there is a lot more to the story, and that emissions that the UK is responsible (in the non-legal context) for have actually increased in the same period.
This increase occurs despite a significant effort in decarbonising certain parts of the UK economy. Therefore two reasons for the increase can be postulated: certain parts of the economy have been off-shored to countries with more carbon intensive production methods that the UK, or we are simply consuming more. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
It is no secret that many of our goods are imported, and this is likely to be as important as any growth in consumption. To a greater or lesser degree the same is true of most nations. This means then when thinking about a low-carbon economy, due consideration ought to be thinking about how international partners contribute as well as emitters within national borders do.
The way agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol are set up means that while some countries have defined emissions reduction targets, others - including those likely to be involved in large-scale export manufacturing, for example - do not. As the data shows, this means that some emissions within a nation with a target could be off-shored, masking a real increase in emissions in a global context.
While a successor to the current Kyoto Protocol is still be be agreed, it will be interesting to see whether a more considered approach to this problem is forthcoming.