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Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: A UK case study


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Consumption-based GHG emission
accounting: a UK case study
John Barrett
, Glen Peters
, Thomas Wiedmann
, Kate Scott
, Manfred
, Katy Roelich
& Corinne Le Quéré
School of Earth and Environment , University of Leeds , Leeds , LS2 9JT ,
Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo , PO
Box 1129 Blindern, N-0318 , Oslo , Norway
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering , University of New South
Wales , Sydney , NSW , 2052 , Australia
School of Physics A-28 , University of Sydney , NSW , 2006 , Australia
Tyndall Centre , University of East Anglia , Norwich , NR4 7TJ , UK
Published online: 05 Jun 2013.
To cite this article: John Barrett , Glen Peters , Thomas Wiedmann , Kate Scott , Manfred Lenzen , Katy
Roelich & Corinne Le Qur (2013) Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: a UK case study, Climate
Policy, 13:4, 451-470, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2013.788858
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Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: a UK
case study
School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
Center for International Climate and Environmental Research Oslo, PO Box 1129 Blindern, N-0318 Oslo, Norway
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
School of Physics A-28, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK
Global GHG emissions continue to rise, with nearly a quarter of it due to trade that is not currently captured within global climate
policy. In the context of current trade patterns and limited global cooperation on climate change, the feasibility of consumption-
based emissions accounting to contribute to a more comprehensive (national) policy framework in the UK is investigated.
Consumption-based emissions results for the UK from a range of models are presented, their technical robustness is assessed,
and their potential application in national climate policy is examined using examples of policies designed to reduce carbon
leakage and to address high levels of consumption. It is shown that there is a need to include consumption-based emissions as a
complementary indicator to the current approach of measuring territorial emissions. Methods are shown to be robust enough to
measure progress on climate change and develop and inform mitigation policy. Finally, some suggestions are made for future
policy-oriented research in the area of consumption-based accounting that will facilitate its application to policy.
Policy relevance
Emissions embodied in trade are rapidly increasing and there is thus a growing gap between production emissions and the
emissions associated with consumption. This is a growing concern due to the absence of a global cap and significant variation in
country-level mitigation ambitions. Robust measurements of consumption-based emissions are possible and provide new insights
into policy options. This includes trade-related policy (e.g. border carbon adjustments) and domestic policies (e.g. resource
efficiency strategies). As climate policy targets deepen, there is a need for a broad range of policy options in addition to production
and technological solutions. Consumption-based emissions are complementary to production-based emissions inventories,
which are still the most accurate estimate for aggregated emissions at the global level. However, without consumption-based
approaches, territorial emissions alone will not provide a complete picture of progress in regional and national emissions reduction.
Keywords: carbon leakage; consumption-based emissions; greenhouse gas emissions; policy appraisal; sustainable consumption
1. Introduction
Recent studies have found that 2025% of CO
emissions are from the production of internationally
traded products (Davis & Caldeira, 2010; Peters & Hertwich, 2008a, 2008b). These emissions are
B *Corresponding author. E-mail:
Vol. 13, No. 4, 451 470,
research article
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growing by, on average, 3.4% per year (1990 2008), increasing from around 20% (4.3 GtCO
) in 1990
to 26% (7.8 GtCO
) in 2008 (Peters, Minx, Weber, & Edenhofer, 2011). The change in net emissions
transfers, from developing to developed countries, offsets territorial emissions reductions achieved
by the Annex B countries of the Kyoto Protocol by a factor of five (Peters et al., 2011). Within the aggre-
gated group of Annex B, the individual country profiles vary from net exporters (e.g. Australia and
Canada) to net importers (e.g. most of the EU-27, Japan, and the US). These results have been found
to be robust across independent studies (Peters, Davis, & Andrew, 2012).
Although these studies have shown the importance of consumption-based accounting for under-
standing emissions growth in individual countries, few governments have actively considered using
consumption-based approaches when forming and appraising policy. In the UK, growing concerns
about the effectiveness of domestic and European climate policy to deliver an absolute reduction in
emissions led the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee (a parliamentary scrutiny panel of
elected ministers) to launch an inquiry and investigate the case for UK consumption-based GHG emis-
sions accounting (ECCC, 2012). Using the UK as a case study, the Committee examined consumption-
based reporting, its practical feasibility, whether emissions reduction targets might be adopted on a
consumption basis, and what the implications might be for the international climate change nego-
tiations on climate change if the UK and others were to take this approach (CSC, 2011). This article pro-
vides the necessary background on the various accounting methods for allocating GHG emissions to
countries. The consistency of different data sets on consumption-based emissions is then presented
together with an assessment of uncertainty. This is followed by exploring the policy application of
the data beyond just an indicator of progress for the UK. The article then summarizes some of the
policy options available both domestically and internationally to address GHG emissions embodied
in trade. Finally, it considers the research required to ensure that options to reduce consumption-
based emissions can be considered alongside the traditional climate policy that predominately
focuses on technological domestic solutions.
2. Background
GHG emissions can be allocated to countries in different ways. At present, there are three allocation
methods in common use: territorial-based, production-based, and consumption-based.
B Territorial-based. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
requires countries to submit annual National Emissions Inventories and follows the guidelines
from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding the allocation of GHG
emissions: ‘emissions and removals taking place within national (including administered) terri-
tories and offshore areas over which the country has jurisdiction’ (IPCC, 1996, p. 5). However,
GHG emissions that arise in international territories, including those from international aviation
and shipping, are only reported as a memo and are not allocated to individual countries. Such a
system can be called a ‘territorial-based emissions inventory’.
B Production-based. Some countries also report GHG emissions allocated using the same system
boundary as the System of National Accounts (SNA), as is already done with gross domestic
product (GDP).
The GHG emissions inventories are sometimes called National Accounting
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Matrices including Environmental Accounts (NAMEAs). In the EU, NAMEAs are reported to Euro-
stat. Although most other developed countries create NAMEAs, they do not report them interna-
tionally. In the SNA, unlike the UNFCCC territorial-based system, emissions from international
aviation and shipping are typically allocated to the country of the relevant vessel’s operator. Simi-
larly, emissions from international tourism are allocated based on where individual tourists are resi-
dent, rather than their destination. The NAMEAs system can be called a ‘production-based
emissions inventory’.
B Consumption-based. Emissions are allocated according to the country of the consumer, usually
based on final consumption (as recorded in the SNA) or as trade-adjusted emissions (Peters,
2008). Conceptually, consumption-based inventories can be thought of as ‘consumption equals
production-based emissions minus the emissions from the production of exports, plus the emis-
sions from the production of imports’ (Consumption ¼ Production 2 Exports + Imports).
Such a system can be called a ‘consumption-based emissions inventory’.
Recently, so-called ‘extraction-based emission inventories’ have been developed (Davis, Peters, &
Caldeira, 2011), which allocate emissions according to where fossil fuels are extracted. Such inven-
tories are relevant because around 37% of global emissions are from traded fossil fuels, and 23%
from the production of traded goods and services. It is possible to consider the entire supply chain
of CO
from the point of extraction, via production, and ultimately to consumption of goods and ser-
vices. There are several advantages of an extraction-based emissions system, the key advantage being
that global emissions can be regulated with only a few participants (Harstad, 2012; Whalley &
Wigle, 1991).
A number of statistical offices and other government agencies have started to calculate consump-
tion-based emissions, predominately in Europe, Australia, and Canada.
However, these are rarely
treated as ‘official statistics’ and few countries, with the exception of Australia (see Hao, Legoff, &
Mahadava, 2012) and the UK, have committed to either annually updating the indicator or providing
an official statistical release of the data (Edens, Delahye, van Rossum, & Schenau, 2011).
The UK has adopted a consumption-based emissions system as an official government indicator
and has commissioned numerous reports that use it to evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation
measures beyond those afforded by technology. These include assessments of the role of resource effi-
ciency in climate change mitigation policy, as well as the role of services and an understanding of
drivers of GHG emissions between 1992 and 2004 (Baiocchi & Minx, 2010; Barrett & Scott, 2012;
Minx, Baiocchi, Wiedmann, & Barrett, 2009; Scott, Barrett, Baiocchi, & Minx, 2009). The UK has
thus been selected as a case study to explore a number of issues surrounding consumption-based emis-
sions accounting.
In this article, consumption-based emissions are used to complement the current territorial account-
ing system, rather than as a replacement for the existing internationally recognized system. This article
explores whether attributing emissions to the consumer generates robust results that are useful in the
formulation of climate policy, beyond those that can be offered using territorial accounting. No
attempt is therefore made to allocate responsibility for those emissions.
The UK case study starts by exploring the variation in consumption-based emissions in some of the
prominent global models used for this purpose, followed by an assessment of the robustness of the
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3. UK case study
3.1. Headline indicator
Figure 1 illustrates the latest time-series results published by the UK Government (Defra, 2012) for the
three main approaches (i.e. territorial-, production-, and consumption-based). Although there have
been a number of other estimates of the UK’s consumption-based GHG emissions, the results from
the official headline indicators for the UK Government are provided.
Growth in consumption-
based GHG emissions grew by 20% between 1990 and 2008, followed in 20082009 by a 9% reduction,
predominately due to the global financial crisis (Wiedmann et al., 2008, 2010).
The UK GHG emissions reported to the UNFCCC (i.e. their ‘territorial emissions’) show a 27%
reduction in territorial GHG emissions between 1990 and 2009, which represents an annual
decline of around 1.4% per annum. GHG emissions are 212 million tonnes lower in 2009 than in
1990, and the UK Government achieved its target established under the Kyoto Protocol. The pro-
duction-based GHG emissions reduced by 24%. There has thus been a greater reduction in emissions
as accounted for under the Kyoto Protocol than in those that are not. In fact, GHG emissions from
production not originally accounted for under the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. the difference between the ter-
ritorial- and production-based emissions) increased by 75% between 1990 and 2009, from 25 million
tonnes to 44 million tonnes of CO
e emissions. From a consumption perspective, the UK’s GHG
emissions rose at a rate of over 1% per annum between 1990 and 2008 (with a 9% reduction from
2008 to 2009).
These figures stand in stark contrast to the 1.4% decrease each year in territorial GHG emissions. The
gap between consumption-based and territorial emissions has continued to grow year on year with the
exception of 2009 (when a comparatively large reduction was recorded).
Figure 1 UK GHG emissions, 19902009
Source: Defra (2012).
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Figure 2 shows the GHG emissions embedded in imports and domestic production for final con-
sumption in the UK and in direct household emissions. In 1990, 60% of GHG emissions associated
with goods and services to satisfy UK consumption were emitted inside the UK. However, in 2001, a
crossover occurred, and GHG emissions embodied in imports (which ultimately occur to satisfy UK
consumption) were greater than emissions due to domestic production.
There have been several other relevant independent global studies. For example, Peters et al. (2011)
estimated the consumption-based CO
emissions for 113 world regions. A key finding of their work was
that, although many developed countries have stabilized their territorial emissions, there has often
been an associated increase in the emissions of developing countries who are producing the imported
goods and services (Peters, 2010a, 2010b). This is also the case for the UK, consistent with the findings
shown in Figure 1. Another study has been undertaken within the scope of the Eora MRIO project
(Kanemoto, Lenzen, Moran, & Geschke, 2011). The Eora MRIO tables feature high country and
sector resolution (187 countries, spanning a total of 15,909 sectors). Results from the Eora study con-
firmed the findings from the aforementioned studies and clearly show the divergent trajectories of ter-
ritorial and consumer emissions (Figure 2). Although there is clearly some variation in total CO
emissions, the emissions trajectories appear consistent, particularly between 1993 and 2009.
Although there have been other assessments of the UK’s consumption emissions, they cover differ-
ent time periods and so have not been included in Figure 3. For example, Druckman and Jackson (2009)
used a quasi-multiregional inputoutput model to calculate consumption-based CO
emissions from
1990 to 2004 and found that emissions attributable to UK households rose by 15% between 1990 and
2004 and were aligned with the other trajectories (see also Helm, Smale, & Phillips, 2007, who found
that emissions grew by 19% from 1990 to 2003).
Figure 2 UK consumption-based GHG emissions by origin, 19902009
Source: University of Leeds.
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The results from the different studies all have small differences in the estimates, but show similar
trends over time. Each of the studies shows that territorial/production emissions have decreased
(despite the use of different figures for these emissions), while consumption-based emissions have
increased. The differences in the estimates of each study could relate to the use of different definitions,
data, methods, and assumptions (Peters et al., 2012; Peters & Solli, 2010), rather than uncertainty in the
consumption-based emissions (see Section 3.2). It is not the aim of this article to fully understand these
differences, but rather to confirm that the trends from the different studies are reliable, and to support
the view that there has been an increase in consumption-based emissions and a reduction in territorial
emissions, and also that the various methods, despite using different data, nevertheless yield consist-
ent conclusions.
3.2. Uncertainty associated with consumption-based emissions
This section considers whether the results provided by consumption-based emissions reporting are
robust and defensible to adequately describe the situation for the UK in terms of emissions. The UK
Government required confirmation of the robustness of the approaches to measure the headline
result of consumption-based emissions for the UK and to compare these results with territorial esti-
mates of GHG emissions. It is important to define and clarify what is meant by ‘robustness’, which
is highly dependent on the purpose a consumption-based emissions inventory may serve. In the
present context, it will be taken to imply providing the motivation for further improvements in data
and methods, and the design and potential implementation of new policies. It is hoped that the
methods used here are adequate to provide robust and comparable information on consumption-
based emissions given the multitude of independent studies with consistent results and related
trends. The last ten years in particular has seen a substantial increase in both the UK’s carbon footprint
Figure 3 Comparison of UK consumption-based CO
Sources: Peters et al. (2011); University of Leeds with the Centre for Sustainability Accounting; Kanemoto et al.
456 Barrett et al.
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and related studies that aim to allocate consumption-based GHG emissions. These studies have devel-
oped methodologies with a particular emphasis on robustness and reducing uncertainty.
A European project (Wiedmann et al., 2009) identified Environmentally Extended Multi-Region
InputOutput (EE-MRIO) analysis as a favourable approach for the assessment of environmental
impacts of trade. The studies described in Figure 3 all used this methodology, although different
data sources were used for some elements of the models. EE-MRIO analysis is emerging as a comprehen-
sive, versatile, and compatible approach for consumption-based accounting of GHG emissions and has
already become the norm in the literature (Davis & Caldeira, 2010; Peters & Hertwich, 2008a, 2008b;
Peters et al., 2011; Wiedmann, 2009; Wiedmann, Wilting, Lenzen, Lutter, & Palm, 2011). Strengths and
weaknesses of the EE-MRIO approach were assessed in the European EIPOT project (Wiedmann et al.,
Although all emissions inventories have some uncertainty, including territorial emissions,
consumption-based estimates will have larger uncertainty due to the incorporation of more input
data, each with various levels of uncertainty. A detailed uncertainty analysis of the UK national
carbon footprint calculations using EE-MRIO modelling was undertaken for the Department for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra; Lenzen, Wood, & Wiedmann, 2010). Figure 4 provides
Figure 4 Uncertainty associated with UK consumption-based CO
Note: Figures calculated using EE-MRIO analysis.
Source: Lenzen et al. (2010).
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the results of this uncertainty analysis and demonstrates that there is an additional uncertainty of the
headline results, in the region of 3%, between consumption- and production-based accounting. It is
clear that the trends in consumption-based emissions, unlike those in territorial-based emissions,
are robust despite the small increase in uncertainty. Thus, such additional uncertainty should not be
used to justify a lack of political action.
The key reason for the increased uncertainty is that MRIO data sets combine data from large and
often incoherent data sets. The uncertainties relate to issues including calibration, balancing, and har-
monization, the use of different time periods, different currencies, different country classifications,
levels of disaggregation, inflation, and raw data errors (Lenzen, Dey, & Murray, 2004; Lenzen et al.,
2010; Peters, 2007; Weber & Matthews, 2008). Many of these manipulations reflect inconsistent report-
ing practices in different countries and regions, and a process of harmonization can greatly reduce the
necessary manipulations and, therefore, uncertainties (Peters & Solli, 2010).
However, it is possible to account for such uncertainties by applying error propagation methods to
determine their influence on the analytical results of carbon footprint studies, for example by using
Monte-Carlo simulation techniques. Even though single data items may be associated with a high
degree of uncertainty, aggregate measures such as emissions embodied in imports into the UK, or emis-
sions from domestic production, are usually known with much more certainty. This situation can be
quantitatively expressed by using standard error estimates, and visualized with error bars. These
approaches were used by Lenzen et al. (2010) to demonstrate that the increase in the UK’s carbon foot-
print was statistically significant.
The results in Figure 4 show the uncertainty, via Monte-Carlo analysis, in a single study. An alterna-
tive approach is to consider the variation between estimates from independent studies. Although
studies can never be classed as truly independent, the underlying data manipulations and harmoniza-
tion methods can differ substantially. Peters et al. (2012) have found that estimates for embodied CO
emissions from several independent studies and their models are robust, and that differences between
them are predominantly a result of their use of different production-based emissions input data and
definitions for allocating emissions to international trade. Using the same economic data, Peters
et al. (2012) found that the variation in consumption-based emission estimates was, paradoxically,
less than the variation in production-based estimates, which signifies that the manipulations in an
inputoutput analysis tend to reduce variations through averaging (Peters, 2007). However, there
may be less uncertainty than is commonly assumed, because the many differences between studies
can be controlled for (such as consistent emissions data and definitions).
4. Policy applications to address consumption-based emissions
It should be recognized that reducing the emissions embodied in trade is complex and requires an
understanding of how each policy affects the different determinants of international emissions trans-
fers. Clearly, the picture is more complex than simply implementing polices to reduce trade, thereby
leading to a reduction in emissions. This is clearly illustrated by Jakob and Marschinski (2012), who
define four key determinants that explain net emissions transfers: the trade balance, energy intensity
of production, carbon intensity of energy, and specialization of countries. The policies considered
below to reduce emissions embodied in trade would affect some or all of these factors. It is, however,
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beyond the scope of this article to provide an understanding of how these determinants, considered
individually and as a collective, would be affected.
In the following sections, the complementary nature of consumption-based emissions and their role
in setting targets, and how trade and domestic policies might change emissions embodied in trade, are
examined. Note, however, that a complete and comprehensive assessment of each policy is not
4.1. Complementary nature of consumption-based emissions
Consumption-based emissions inventories should not be considered as the solution for climate policy,
but instead should be regarded as providing additional information that has relevance to it. Different
emissions inventories, such as those that are territorial-, production-, or consumption-based, have
different system boundaries, placing the focus on alternative mitigation strategies, so different emis-
sions inventories therefore contain complementary information. Thus, consumption-based emission
inventories should be considered together with the other types of inventory, rather than as an alterna-
tive to them.
Because of issues of national sovereignty, binding agreements on emissions may focus primarily on
production-based emissions estimates. However, for global environmental problems, such as climate
change, the impacts are largely independent of where the emissions occur. Taking a production per-
spective may give the impression of progress towards the global environmental objective, while a con-
sumption perspective may suggest the opposite (see Figure 1). In the UK, the reality is that
consumption activities are increasing global emissions, and the growth of consumption-based emis-
sions has outpaced the emissions reductions from production efficiency gains (Minx, Baiocchi,
et al., 2009).
Given the global differential levels of economic development, globally harmonized climate policies
are unlikely in the short or long term. Rather, for the foreseeable future, it seems that fragmented, sub-
global climate policies will have to do. In this context, consumption-based accounting becomes even
more important as a policy tool. If there were globally harmonized climate policies in place, linked to a
mitigation pathway to avoid a more than 2 8C rise in global temperature, the need for consumption-
based emissions would diminish (as there would be no potential for carbon leakage).
However, the benefits of consumption-based emissions accounting need to go beyond merely high-
lighting the gap between territorial- and consumption-based emissions (Minx, Wiedmann, et al.,
2009). A focus on consumption-based emissions must highlight new policy options that may not
have been realized from a production perspective. These have been categorized into three distinct
groupings: setting emission targets, international trade policies, and domestic consumption policies.
4.2. Setting targets
The key aim of climate policy in the UK is to establish a climate mitigation strategy that limits the
growth of GHG emissions, thus contributing to avoiding dangerous levels of temperature increase.
If the UK were to consider mitigation strategies that affected both consumption and production emis-
sions, then the scope for emissions reduction would increase. Territorial emissions targets in isolation
can unintentionally lead to weak carbon leakage (see below) through imports from non-Annex I
countries (Peters & Hertwich, 2008a, 2008b). In 2004, 67% of the 143 MtCO
of net imported emissions
Consumption-based GHG emission accounting 459
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was due to imports from countries without binding and ratified emissions limitations under the Kyoto
Protocol and which, therefore, were not covered by global emissions reduction commitments (Carbon
Trust, 2009). Thus, as long as Annex I countries remain net importers of emissions, consumption-based
emissions inventories are a powerful way to expand the base of existing climate policies.
Figure 5 shows a simple UK GHG emissions scenario from a consumption-based perspective that
embodies two key assumptions: (i) that emissions embodied in trade will continue in line with histori-
cal growth rates for the past 20 years, and (ii) that the UK achieves its territorial emissions reduction
target of 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. Although the scenario is only illustrative and not a detailed
forecast of future emissions, it serves to demonstrate the potential scale of emissions embodied in trade
without either a radical change in global production efficiency or specific policies to address consump-
tion. In Figure 5, domestic emissions comprise less than 20% of total UK emissions by 2050, and UK
consumption-based emissions in 2050 may only be 27% lower than in 2005.
Illustrations such as Figure 5 show that without due attention to consumption-based emissions, it is
likely that the scope of existing territorial emissions reduction strategies will be significantly under-
mined over time.
4.3. Trade responses
Climate change legislation has mainly operated from a territorial perspective, and emissions
reductions have traditionally focused on domestic policies (Droege, 2011; UN, 1992, Article 12).
However, with carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns high on the policy agenda, policies
that transgress EU territories are becoming increasingly important. One clear way to address emissions
embodied in trade is to consider trade-related policies to tackle such concerns.
Carbon leakage can be separated into two distinct categories: weak and strong (Peters & Hertwich,
2008a, 2008b).
Figure 5 Projection of UK consumption-based GHG emissions to 2050
460 Barrett et al.
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B Strong carbon leakage occurs when there is an increase in global emissions specifically due to climate
policy (e.g. a UK climate change policy).
B Weak carbon leakage occurs when there is an increase in global emissions due to increased consump-
tion (rather than one due to a specific government policy).
The scale of weak carbon leakage is particularly important in the UK compared to other large emit-
ters. The difference between growth in consumption-based and territorial-based emissions was the
largest for the UK when compared to the other industrial nations in the top ten CO
emitters, with a
23% growth difference in 2008 from 1990 (for CO
only), compared to 8% for the US, 7% for
Canada, and decreases in other countries (see Figure 6).
Strong carbon leakage is considered to be generally small at today’s carbon prices (Carbon Trust,
2008, 2010). By contrast, weak carbon leakage (essentially the difference between production and con-
sumption emission accounting) is considered to be large (see Figure 1; Peters et al., 2011). When weak
carbon leakage is large and strong carbon leakage is small, it is implied that another country has
increased its production (and emissions) to meet the increased consumption in the relevant country,
in this case the UK. The increased exports from China to the UK appear to be a particularly important
factor underlying the large increase in the UK’s consumption-based emissions (Baiocchi & Minx, 2010).
One of the most significant international implications of the UK considering taking a consumption-
based approach to emissions accounting would be to allow the UK to avoid weak carbon leakage and
Figure 6 Growth differences between consumption-based and territorial-based CO
emissions from 1990 for China,
India, and industrial nations in the top ten emitters
Source: Peters et al. (2011).
Consumption-based GHG emission accounting 461
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explicitly recognize its own influence on the emissions of other countries. As Barrett (2011) has argued,
trade mechanisms are a key component of an effective climate agreement. Furthermore, inclusion of
trade, via a border tax adjustment, may even force a global agreement (Helm, 2012). Extensive analysis
of the role of border tax adjustments can be found in the literature (Dro
ge & Cooper, 2009; Fischer &
Fox, 2012).
Although not a global example, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) acts as a mechanism to
reduce carbon leakage within Europe. A new analysis of the UK is represented in Figure 7 and demon-
strates that the four most significant countries for embodied emissions are not covered by European
climate policy.
Only 25% of embodied emissions in imports occur inside the EU, and only 17% are captured under
the EU ETS (and, hence, 83% of emissions embodied in trade due to consumption in the EU are not
accounted for under the EU ETS). Measures such as carbon border taxes have been proposed to comp-
lement the EU ETS, although they have, in turn, been subject to criticisms of discrimination or protec-
tionism and of threatening trade relations. Debate remains on the issues of equity and the differential
responsibility assigned to developed and developing countries, but there are indications to suggest that
policies such as border levelling whereby the costs of carbon are equalized between domestic and
imported products are more politically acceptable and increase global welfare (Gros & Egenhofer,
2011; Grubb, 2011; Ismer & Neuhoff, 2004). Barrett, Vaner, Sakai, and Owen (2012) considered the per-
centage of embodied emissions that would be captured, taking different sensitivities into account, and
demonstrated that it would be extremely difficult to extend the coverage of the EU ETS to imports. This
was mainly because, even without accounting for the embodied emissions in finished products as
opposed to capturing the emissions related to the raw materials currently priced, it would fail to
cover 95% of emissions embodied in trade (Barrett et al., 2012). For example, European countries do
Figure 7 Origin of CO
e emissions to satisfy UK consumption in 2007
Source: University of Leeds.
462 Barrett et al.
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not import electricity from China, but the emissions from Chinese electricity are embodied in many of
the products consumed. Accounting for this requires understanding the complete supply-chain emis-
sions of finished products. No GHG emissions accounting can accurately and robustly measure the
emissions associated with individual products and take into account global supply chains and individ-
ual country efficiencies at a low cost. This does not mean that border carbon adjustment schemes are
impossible, but rather that any suggested scheme must consider the percentage of embodied emissions
in imports that is captured, and overcome significant methodological hurdles or, at the least, simplify
the scheme.
There are clearly further options available beyond border carbon adjustments. Policies that allow
climate-compatible development should be given significant attention to ensure that imports are pro-
duced using the best available technology. This requires a stronger focus on the carbon intensity of
imports (Davis et al., 2011). This could involve the extension of EU ETS-type schemes, border
carbon adjustments, and improved technology transfer. With time such an important issue,
schemes that can be implemented in the near term are a priority. The EE-MRIO model, which calculates
consumption-based emissions, could act as a useful tool with which to assess the ability of different
schemes to capture the emissions embodied in trade. It allows adjustments to be made to the level
and composition of consumption, production structure and efficiency, as well as different trade pat-
terns between countries. This would allow a further assessment of options to improve carbon intensity
through the introduction of financial schemes and programmes involving technology transfer.
4.4. Domestic consumption responses
A production perspective on emissions may identify energy production, energy-intensive industries,
and transportation as dominant sources of emissions, but a consumption perspective reveals the
role of manufactured products, such as electrical appliances and furniture, food, clothing, and services.
A consumption approach may lead to different policy instruments, and highlight more effective pol-
icies (i.e. implementable quickly at lower cost). In the UK, this has been clearly demonstrated in the
major study undertaken for the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which explored 13
different resource efficiency strategies for the UK (Barrett & Scott, 2012).
Consumption-based emissions demonstrate the need for comprehensive roadmaps on key products
that cannot be tackled purely by UK production-based measures (Sinden, Peters, Minx, & Weber, 2011).
Figure 8 shows whether the emissions from different product groups occurred inside or outside the UK.
Domestic policies on electricity generation would clearly be effective and responsive. However, such
policies would barely tackle the emissions associated with the production of electronic equipment,
vehicles, and textiles. Different policies that effect different country efficiency improvements and
demand-side strategies could affect these emissions (Barrett & Scott, 2012). Sinden et al. (2011) have
suggested that the production-based EU ETS could miss around 50% of the emissions associated
with the consumption of aluminium and derived products in the EU alone (Sinden et al., 2011).
Further research is required on the mitigation costs and benefits of consumption-based measures,
but some preliminary research suggests that a number of strategies could boost national growth. The
comprehensive study by WRAP has demonstrated that strategies such as extending the lifetime of pro-
ducts, lean design techniques, reducing food waste, dietary changes, and product durability could
boost the service-based economy in the UK and reduce weak carbon leakage (Barrett & Scott, 2012).
Consumption-based GHG emission accounting 463
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Many studies have demonstrated the role of resource efficiency in climate mitigation (e.g. Barrett &
Scott, 2012). Vringer et al. (1995), and others, have concluded that influencing lifestyle decisions
that change longevity of use, substitution, and shifts to services could each contribute to emissions
reduction. However, many of these options have not been translated into policies for climate mitiga-
tion. At best, information saving and voluntary schemes have been used by governments with limited
or no effect.
Considering consumption-based emissions aids in understanding the indirect impacts embodied in
the supply chain of organizations (described as Scope 3 emissions by the GHG Protocol, the emerging
global standard in carbon accounting for organizations; see Wiedmann, Lenzen, & Barrett, 2009).
Scope 3 emissions include indirect emissions from activities such as the extraction and production
of purchased materials and fuels. In some sectors these emissions represent a significant proportion
of total supply chain emissions. For example, in the case of the publishing sector, Scope 1 and 2 emis-
sions account for only 6% of total emissions in Australia and just over 13% in the US. In the case of the
data-processing sector, Scopes 1 and 2 account for 17% of all emissions in the US and just less than 23%
in Australia (Huang, Lenzen, Weber, Murray, & Matthews, 2009). These examples show that consump-
tion-based approaches provide information that is not available in standard production-based
Many of the policy options that change the composition of consumption could have indirect
rebound effects such that the saved revenue is allocated to another good or service. It is essential
that these rebound effects are considered to avoid an overly optimistic picture of the scale of possible
emissions reduction.
Figure 8 Percentage of GHG emissions in the UK associated with different groups
Source: Barrett, Owen, and Sakai (2011).
464 Barrett et al.
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4.5. Political responses to consumption-based emissi ons and climate policy
The policy response in the UK has been to consider its options under the umbrella heading of ‘Sustain-
able Consumption and Production’ (SCP). There has been a clear division between SCP policy and
climate change policy. In the UK, climate change policy is under the administration of the Department
of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), whereas SCP is the responsibility of Defra. This has created a
clear divide between the two agendas, which has led to the current UK ‘Climate Plan’ (DECC, 2012)
completely ignoring the existence of SCP.
There have also been clear moves by DECC to ensure that this division remains in the future. Com-
ments by the current Minister of State for Climate Change, Gregory Barker, at the inquiry by the Energy
and Climate Change Select Committee, labelled consumption-based emissions as ‘a purely academic
exercise’, a ‘distraction at best’ and of ‘limited policy application’ (House of Commons, 2012).
However, the conclusions of the inquiry will make it more difficult for DECC to ignore both trade pol-
icies and consumption-based measures in future climate mitigation plans. The Committee’s report
calls for DECC to establish targets for consumption-based emissions and suggests that such an
approach would help in the development of new climate policies.
4.6. Research requirements to improve the policy application of consumption-based
As well as the political issues that surround the acceptance and application of a consumption-based
emissions system, the translation of consumption-side strategies into clear policy instruments is still
in its infancy. So far, SCP policies in the UK have relied on voluntary, soft policy measures. Some of
the research requirements to ensure that consumption-based emissions have a more dominant role
in guiding climate policy are listed below:
B Harmonization of methods. With the UK Government taking a global lead in assessing their con-
sumption-based emissions, it could establish standards in conjunction with other institutions
for the harmonization of methods to ensure robustness and consistency between country esti-
mates. One reason for the UK to take a lead on this is that the UK is especially vulnerable to criticism
from the international community in relation to the large amount of leakage that occurs relative to
other large industrial nations. The UK thus has a credibility problem in the international climate
change negotiations, despite its demonstrative progress in reducing territorial GHG emissions.
Although not standardized, the use of Environmentally Extended InputOutput analysis has
become the de facto standard (Wiedmann, 2009).
B Policy-orientated research. There is a strong need for consumption-side solutions that clearly define
the policy instruments that will be used to reduce emissions. There is a considerable need for the
visualization of demand-side strategies, and insights into how they will play out in the real
world. There are some examples of this in the literature (in particular Barrett & Scott, 2012;
Sinden et al., 2011), although there is a need for more. The research on consumption-based emis-
sions has yet to demonstrate a clear transition or roadmap for how a national government could
apply a broader mitigation agenda that includes policies that both affect total final demand of
households and the composition of consumption.
Consumption-based GHG emission accounting 465
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B Consumption-based emissions scenarios. There is a need to build EE-MRIO modelling of consump-
tion-based emissions into the commonly used scenario generating models for climate mitigation
policy. One of the disadvantages of using EE-MRIO for assessments of consumption-based emis-
sions is the static nature of its models. Linking results to the dynamic models used in climate
policy assessments would raise less of a challenge for national government departments, who
are comfortable with such modelling conventions. This also provides a framework for understand-
ing the growing importance of imported emissions. Further work is currently being undertaken to
link the results from EE-MRIO models of the upstream impacts on energy technologies with energy
system models. These approaches can help to break down some of the polarized opinions within
the UK Government, which rejects the application of consumption-based accounting and brings
such approaches into the mainstream.
B Economic assessments of consumption-based policies and strategies. Measures related to demand-side
strategies should be assessed with the same criteria as supply-side measures. An economic assessment
of the cost-effectiveness of the various strategies should consider using a similar approach to apprais-
ing territorial methods as taken by the Committee on Climate Change, who have used Marginal
Abatement Cost (MAC) curves to assess whether various strategies are revenue-generating or a cost.
Further analysis of the range of policy options is required. Such analyses would need to consider the
underlying drivers of emissions and offer an interpretation of each policy, individually and collectively.
It should not rely exclusively on consumption-based accounting, but rather should use econometric
analysis to establish the dynamic relationships that drive emissions.
5. Conclusions
This article has demonstrated the role that consumption-based emissions could play in monitoring
progress in reducing emissions and its ability to introduce and quantify additional climate mitigation
strategies. The methodology is robust enough to support both roles. Consumption-based emissions are
complementary to production-based emissions inventories, which are still the most relevant and accu-
rate estimates for aggregated emissions at the global level and are an important starting point for the
study of the climate system. However, without consumption-based approaches, territorial emissions
alone do not provide a complete picture of progress in regional and national emissions reduction.
With fragmented climate policy, consumption-based emissions are an essential tool for extending
and widening the policy options. As climate policy targets deepen, there should be a broad range of
policy options in addition to those that focus on the production and technological solutions.
At the same time, evaluations of the policy options, political responses, and institutional and gov-
ernance issues associated with consumption-based emissions are still in their infancy. There is a
need to understand the policy instruments available to implement consumption-side measures,
beyond voluntary and information-sharing approaches. Additionally, there has only been limited
research into consumption-based emissions scenarios.
However, despite the need for further research, consumption-based emissions act as an important
reminder of the global challenge of climate change and demonstrate the need for cooperation, inno-
vative mitigation strategies, and the inherent link between consumption, the economy, and emissions.
466 Barrett et al.
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This research formed part of the programme of the UK Research Centre and was supported by the UK
Research Councils under Natural Environment Research Council award NE/G007748/1.
1. This allocation is necessary to make the emissions statistics consistent with the economic data used in economic
2. See Edens et al. (2011), who provide a brief history of the countries (namely Denmark, the Netherlands,
Germany, Sweden, France, and the UK) that have calculated consumption-based emissions (see also Lennox
et al., 2010; Nijdam, Wilting, Goedkoop, and Madsen, 2005).
3. Consumption-based emissions were calculated by the University of Leeds and the Centre for Sustainability
Accounting for Defra, using EE-MRIO.
4. Initial calculations suggest that 55% of the reduction was related to the economic downturn seen in the UK.
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Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise but, at the same time, emission intensities associated with domestic consumption and territorial production have declined albeit at vastly different rates across economies. To identify the socioeconomic factors that drive this cross-country variation, we combine input–output modelling with panel data analysis. Using the World Input–Output Database, we estimate GHG intensities separately for domestic consumption and for territorial production. For the regression analysis, we consider several socioeconomic factors that capture development features, exposure to international trade, as well as energy prices and GHG-relevant programmes. Our results show that development-type factors, such as per capita income, capital-labour ratios, and investments, are the primary drivers of cross-country differences. Energy prices and domestic GHG policies are not major drivers. We also find that reductions in intensities are primarily through changes in techniques rather than compositional changes in the structure of economies.
International trade accelerates the separation between consumption and production on a global scale, thus leading to carbon transfer. Consequently, carbon flow embodied in international trade reallocates global carbon emission responsibilities, consisting of domestic demand and imports but excluding exports. To tackle the geographic flow of emissions embodied in products and services, carbon emissions must be quantified according to the global value chains. Using Japan as a case study, this study tracked the evolution of consumption patterns, international trade, and related carbon emissions based on multi-regional input-output tables, and carbon emissions inventories. Carbon emission transfers among sectors and countries were identified from 2000 to 2014. As a result, imports from the industrial sector led to a gap between production- and consumption-based carbon emissions. Japan was found to be an emissions net import country over the study period, with about 58% of the total carbon emissions inflow coming from China. Moreover, household consumption accounted for nearly 60% of consumption-based emissions, with industrial sector products and services being the primary source of carbon inflow, and the service, transport, and industry sectors are responsible for the majority of domestically released emissions. These conclusions provide valuable information for Japan to customize sectoral carbon reduction priorities, an essential component of setting decarbonization goals from the consumer perspective.
This article maps the socio-technical interconnections between atmospheric systems, on the one hand, and the infrastructural networks associated with the extraction, production, transport and consumption of energy resources, on the other hand. The exchanges, interdependencies and injustices that arise at this interface can broadly be understood as the ‘air–energy nexus’. Despite energy inequalities almost always being entangled with some form of atmospheric injustice, their intersection has rarely been articulated to date. With the aid of a critical literature review, we focus on the domestic air–energy nexus to explore the ability of air to act as a social and physical agent of deprivation and injustice in the case of energy vulnerability: a condition characterized by a household’s propensity to secure adequate levels of energy services in the home. We argue that an integrated and critical perspective on the air–energy nexus challenges existing understandings of the quality and nature of domestic energy and atmospheric services, such as space heating and cooling. We propose future research and policy directions focused on addressing energy vulnerability in the home by embracing the unruly and fluid character of air–energy interactions, and transcending the socio-material boundaries between indoor and outdoor environments.
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This submission provides input to the inquiry by the Energy and Climate Change Committee which seeks to study "… whether there is a case for the adoption of consumption-based emissions reporting in the UK, whether it is feasible to do this in practice, whether emissions reduction targets might be adopted on a consumption basis, and what the implications for international negotiations on climate change might be if the UK, and others, took this approach." It addresses the three specific questions put forward by the committee.
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There are a number of initiatives aimed at compiling large-scale global multi-region input–output (MRIO) tables complemented with non-monetary information such as on resource flows and environmental burdens. Depending on purpose or application, MRIO construction and usage has been hampered by a lack of geographical and sectoral detail; at the time of writing, the most advanced initiatives opt for a breakdown into at most 129 regions and 120 sectors. Not all existing global MRIO frameworks feature continuous time series, margins and tax sheets, and information on reliability and uncertainty. Despite these potential limitations, constructing a large MRIO requires significant manual labour and many years of time. This paper describes the results from a project aimed at creating an MRIO account that represents all countries at a detailed sectoral level, allows continuous updating, provides information on data reliability, contains table sheets expressed in basic prices as well as all margins and taxes, and contains a historical time series. We achieve these goals through a high level of procedural standardisation, automation, and data organisation.
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In a globalised world, the transfer of carbon between regions, either physically or embodied in production, represents a substantial fraction of global carbon emissions. The resulting emission transfers are important for balancing regional carbon budgets and for understanding the drivers of emissions. In this paper we synthesise current understanding in two parts: (1) CO2 emissions embodied in goods and services that are produced in one country but consumed in others, and (2) carbon physically present in fossil fuels, petroleum-derived products, harvested wood products, crops, and livestock products. We describe the key differences between studies and provide a consistent set of estimates using the same definitions, modelling framework, and consistent data. We find the largest trade flows of carbon in international trade in 2004 were fossil fuels (2673 MtC, 37 % of global emissions), CO2 embodied in traded goods and services (1661 MtC, 22 % of global emissions), crops (522 MtC, 31 % of total harvested crop carbon), petroleum-based products (183 MtC, 50 % of their total production), harvested wood products (149 MtC, 40 % of total roundwood extraction), and livestock products (28 MtC, 22 % of total livestock carbon). We find that for embodied CO2 emissions, estimates from independent studies are robust, and that differences between individual studies are not a reflection of the uncertainty in consumption-based estimates, but rather these differences result from the use of different production-based emissions input data and different definitions for allocating emissions to international trade. After adjusting for these issues, results across independent studies converge to give less uncertainty than previously assumed. For physical carbon flows there are relatively few studies to be synthesised, but differences between existing studies are due to the method of allocating to international trade, with some studies using "apparent consumption" as opposed to "final consumption". While results across studies are sufficiently robust to be used in further applications, more research is needed to understand differences and to harmonise definitions for particular applications.
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In a globalised world, the transfer of carbon between regions, either physically or embodied in production, represents a substantial fraction of global carbon emissions. The resulting emission transfers are important for balancing regional carbon budgets and for understanding the drivers of regional emissions. In this paper we synthesise current understanding in two parts: (1) embodied CO2 emissions from the production of goods and services produced in one country but consumed in others, (2) physical carbon flows in fossil fuels, petroleum-derived products, harvested wood products, crops, and livestock. We describe the key differences between studies and provide a consistent set of estimates using the same definitions, modelling framework, and consistent data. We find the largest trade flows of carbon in international trade in 2004 were fossil fuels (2673 MtC, 37% of global emissions), CO2 embodied in traded goods and services (1661 MtC, 22% of global emissions), livestock (651 MtC, 20% of total livestock carbon), crops (522 MtC, 31% of total harvested crop carbon), petroleum-based products (183 MtC, 50% of their total production), and harvested wood products (149 MtC, 40% of total roundwood extraction). We find that for embodied CO2 emissions estimates from independent studies are robust. We found that differences between individual studies is not representative of the uncertainty in consumption-based estimates as different studies use different production-based emission estimates as input and different definitions of allocating emissions to international trade. After adjusting for these issues, results across independent studies converge to give less uncertainty than previously assumed. For physical carbon flows there are relatively few studies to be synthesised, but differences between existing studies are due to the method of allocating to international trade with some studies using "apparent consumption" as opposed to "final consumption" in more comprehensive approaches. While results across studies are robust to be used in further applications, more research is needed to understand the differences between methods and to harmonise definitions for particular applications.
Honorable Mention, General-Non-Fiction category at the 2013 Green Book Festival sponsored by JM Northern LLC. Despite commitments to renewable energy and two decades of international negotiations, global emissions continue to rise. Coal, the most damaging of all fossil fuels, has actually risen from 25% to almost 30% of world energy use. And while European countries have congratulated themselves on reducing emissions, they have increased their carbon imports from China and other developing nations, who continue to expand their coal use. As standards of living increase in developing countries, coal use can only increase as well-and global temperatures along with it. In this hard-hitting book, Dieter Helm looks at how and why we have failed to tackle the issue of global warming and argues for a new, pragmatic rethinking of energy policy-from transitioning from coal to gas and eventually to electrification of transport, to carbon pricing and a focus on new technologies. Lucid, compelling and rigorously researched, this book will have a lasting impact on how we think about climate change. © 2012 Dieter Helm. The right of Dieter Helm to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Tackling carbon leakage: sector-specific solutions for a world of unequal carbon prices. Carbon Trust
Most industrialized countries are net importers of carbon emissions, that is, they release fewer emissions for the production of their total exported goods and services than the amount generated (by their trading partners) for producing their total imported goods and services. But what do such carbon trade-deficits imply in terms of global CO2 emissions and the design of carbon trade-policies? Drawing on trade theory, this Perspective argues that a deeper understanding of these observed net emission transfers is required to assess how international trade affects global emissions and proposes a method to disentangle the underlying determinants of such transfers.