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Carbon dioxide emissions associated with UK consumption increase

Posted on 2 July 2008

Researchers have discovered that carbon dioxide emissions associated with UK consumption increased by 115 million tonnes (18 per cent), between 1992 and 2004.

The results are an outcome of a research project undertaken by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) part of the Department of Biology at the University of York, and the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) at the University of Sydney on behalf of Defra.

Accounting for emissions from a consumption perspective provides insight into the global impacts of local consumption

Dr Tommy Wiedmann

A ground-breaking new modelling approach, called multi-region input-output analysis, was developed specifically for the UK and thoroughly tested for its robustness.

This study provides an insight into the impacts of all the goods and services consumed by British households, including those emissions that occur in countries exporting to the UK, which are usually excluded from standard emissions analysis.

Measuring emissions on a consumption basis will produce different numbers for all economies than those reported on under the Kyoto Protocol. For the UK, for example, our consumption emissions in 2004 were 37 per cent higher than the UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory which is based on territorial emissions under UN rules.

Carbon dioxide emissions embedded in imports went up from 35 per cent of UK emissions in 1992 to 67 per cent in 2004, while those embedded in exports increased from 31 per cent to 45 per cent of emissions over the same period. This suggests that while the UK has made progress in reducing its own carbon dioxide emissions, these reductions have been offset by increased emissions in other countries through the consumption of imported goods and services. Trade data also indicates an increasing dominance of emissions embedded in UK imports from newly emerging economies such as China, India and Russia.

Dr Tommy Wiedmann from SEI, who led the study, said: "Accounting for emissions from a consumption perspective provides insight into the global impacts of local consumption. It gives support for the view that in an increasingly globalised market all economies need to play their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions."


Notes to editors:

More information:

Dr Thomas Wiedmann
Tel.: +44 1904 43 2899

Dr John Barrett
Tel.: +44 1904 43 4744

Robert Watt
SEI Head of Communications
Tel.: +46 73 707 85 89

Notes to Editors

  • More information on the Stockholm Environment Institute at York at and the Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis at the University of Sydney at
  • The University of York’s Department of Biology is one of the leading centres for biological teaching and research in the UK. The Department undertakes research across the whole spectrum of modern Biology, from molecular genetics and biochemistry to ecology.

Technical notes

  • The project ‘Development of an Embedded Carbon Emissions Indicator’ was commissioned by Defra in 2007 in order to establish a robust methodology to account for the UK carbon footprint, including ‘embedded emissions’. These include the emissions from goods and services consumed by UK residents, wherever those goods come from. This method of accounting for emissions reflects the fact that the UK’s consumption activities are supported by international trade and therefore result in emissions of carbon dioxide outside of the country.
  • National carbon dioxide emissions are usually calculated by estimating the emissions produced in the country. National emissions totals submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) refer to the territories of the countries concerned and do not, by international agreement, include emissions embedded in imports or from international aviation and shipping.
  • The multi-region input-output model specifically developed for the UK in the course of the project is a major step towards a robust and consistent approach for carbon accounting from a consumption perspective. Few research groups in the world have so far developed such models and the SEI/ISA team are the first who have undertaken a Monte-Carlo type uncertainty analysis of the model in order to establish the error margins associated with the results.
  • The relative standard error for total consumer emissions is in the region of +/- 5%. For more detailed policy applications it will be important to improve the existing model by adding additional regions and sector detail.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153