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Published by Climate Spectator.

new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week finds that the shift in production from developed to developing countries masks increased carbon emissions of countries that pledged emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.

The new analysis shows that while the territorial emissions of ‘Annex B’ countries (defined as developed countries with emission-reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol) appear to be stabilising, emissions generated from the production of traded goods increased from 1.6 Gt CO2 to 4.3 Gt between 1990 and 2008 – from 20 per cent to 26 per cent of the proportion of global emissions. Once these consumption-based emissions are accounted for, Annex B countries have increased their emissions.

“[The] study shows for the first time that emissions from increased production of internationally traded products have more than offset the emissions reductions achieved under the Kyoto Protocol,” contributing researcher Glen Peters told The Guardian. “This suggests that the current focus on territorial emissions in a subset of countries may be ineffective at reducing global emissions without some mechanisms to monitor and report emissions from the production of imported goods and services.”

The offshoring of emissions that is now occurring is no surprise given the Kyoto Protocol’s two-tiered mitigation framework and globalising production and consumption. The report’s authors suggest improved carbon accounting to incorporate the embodied emissions of goods and services, yet given the slow pace of international climate change negotiations such a change seems unlikely in the short term.

Whether or not the international carbon accounting practices are altered, one thing remains certain: renewable energy substitutes must be made competitive with fossil fuels. International efforts are needed to ensure that wherever production occurs, it is in economies that are decarbonising.

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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