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Identifying The Climate Change Impacts Of Imports

Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (UK)

Identifying climate change impacts of global imports

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is today publishing a report which identifies the CO2 emissions created by goods and services imported into the UK.

In an increasingly global economy, imported goods and services have climate impacts in other countries and the key to reducing emissions across the international supply chain is knowing the scale and nature of the problem.

Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, said:

"If we are going to tackle climate change and create a strong low carbon economy, emissions must be reduced in the UK and internationally. That's why we are working to secure a comprehensive, long-term global climate deal that involves all the world's major economies, that puts us on track to cut global emissions in half by 2050.

"Taking imports, exports and international transport into account, overall CO2 emissions associated with UK consumption of goods and services increased by nearly 115 mtCO2 (18%) between 1992 and 2004. During the same period, the UK has made real progress at home. By reducing the carbon intensity of our production processes and energy generation, our territorial CO2 emissions have fallen by around 5% over the same period.

"Under international climate change agreements, we only have direct influence over our domestic emissions - and they are, and will remain, the basis for these commitments - but as we accelerate the move to a low carbon economy, we must help business and individuals to understand and reduce the environmental impacts of the products and services they produce, sell or consume, wherever in the world they are made."

The main messages from the report are:

* Taking imports, exports and international transport into account, overall CO2 emissions associated with UK consumption of goods and services increased by nearly 115 mtCO2 between 1992 and 2004.

* An increasing majority of the emissions embedded in UK imports are produced in countries outside the OECD (i.e. that region of the world that includes most of Asia).

* The increase can be explained by trends that have emerged over the last few decades:

* Some manufacturing has moved from the UK and become established in countries where manufacturing is more carbon intensive that it would be here (i.e. more CO2 is emitted per unit of production).

* At the same time as the UK (like many other nations) has shifted to importing a greater proportion of products from such countries, there has also been an increase in the overall volume and diversity of products being consumed.

Mr Benn continued:

"These findings reinforce the need for a global approach to tackling climate change, based on a carbon market that stimulates action and investment in clean energy and energy efficiency in all economies.

"It is important that developed economies show leadership, and developing economies take their fair share of action. Global trade provides massive benefits for poorer countries and developing economies. Importing less to the UK and other rich countries would have dire consequences for developing nations and it is only by economic growth that developing countries will have the resources to take action on emissions.

"All of us - government, business and individuals - have an important role to play in reducing global emissions. Government is working for a global climate deal and aiming to make the UK a leading low-carbon economy through the Climate Change Bill, the first of its kind in the world. Business needs to reduce the impact of supply chains across the world, not just in the UK. As consumers we all must reduce the environmental impact of the things we buy and do by thinking about the environmental impacts of the products and services we buy."

Next week Defra will publish a Products and Materials Progress Report which will set out action we are taking to improve the environmental performance of products and their supply chains, and stimulate debate about how Government and business can work together.


1. "Development of an Embedded Carbon Emissions Indicator: A research report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Sydney" can be found at

2. The UK's CO2 emissions figures are accurate. The UK reports on its emissions on the same basis as all other countries, based on UN requirements that have been agreed internationally.

3. To ensure consistency we intend to use the same approach to measure UK emissions under the Climate Change Bill.

4. Action to reduce CO2 emissions internationally, in addition to UN and other negotiations, includes:

* Working within the EU to secure an ambitious international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

* The UK is working to promote technology and investment cooperation through a range of initiatives, including: supporting the World Bank-led Clean Energy Investment Framework for accelerating and scaling up public, private and carbon finance for investment in low carbon energy and adaptation; EU-China initiative to demonstrate near zero emissions from coal in China; the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership; the UK-Brazil-Southern Africa Taskforce on Biofuels; the UK-India Study to Identify the Barriers to Low Carbon Technology Transfer and the IEA technology platforms and initiatives amongst others.

* Defra is working with the Carbon Trust and British Standards Institution to develop a recognised standard which enables businesses to measure the CO2 emissions associated with the whole lifecycle of their products and services - so they can take action to reduce them.

* Taking steps to help developing countries respond to climate change - including working with others to develop the multilateral Climate Investment Funds, which will support low carbon growth and climate resilient development. The UK will contribute to these funds from the £800m international Environment Transformation Fund.

* Publishing a Products and Materials Progress Report next week, which will set out action we are taking to improve the environmental performance of products and their supply chains, and stimulate debate on how government and business can further work together.

* Introducing minimum energy efficiency standards for a number of products across Europe - which due to the globalised economy will encourage increased manufacture of more climate-friendly goods around the world.

Client ref News Release ref : 206/08
COI ref 162899P


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