A new study published in the March 8 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows more than one-third of CO2 emissions related to the consumption of goods and services in developed countries are actually emitted outside their national borders
For France, Sweden and Britain, more than 30% of consumption-based emissions could be traced to origins abroad; if those emissions were tallied on the other side of the balance sheet, it would add more than four tons of CO2 per person in several European nations.
CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are the primary cause of global warming. Much attention has been focused on the CO2 directly emitted by each country, but relatively little attention has been paid to the amount of emissions associated with the consumption of goods and services in each country. Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions differs from traditional, production-based inventories because of imports and exports of goods and services that, either directly or indirectly, involve CO2 emissions. Here, using the latest available data, we present a global consumption-based CO2 emissions inventory and calculations of associated consumption-based energy and carbon intensities. We find that, in 2004, 23% of global CO2 emissions, or 6.2 gigatonnes CO2, were traded internationally, primarily as exports from China and other emerging markets to consumers in developed countries. In some wealthy countries, including Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, the United Kingdom, and France, >30% of consumption-based emissions were imported, with net imports to many Europeans of >4 tons CO2 per person in 2004. Net import of emissions to the United States in the same year was somewhat less: 10.8% of total consumption-based emissions and 2.4 tons CO2 per person. In contrast, 22.5% of the emissions produced in China in 2004 were exported, on net, to consumers elsewhere. Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions demonstrates the potential for international carbon leakage. Sharing responsibility for emissions among producers and consumers could facilitate international agreement on global climate policy that is now hindered by concerns over the regional and historical inequity of emissions.