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Rich countries’ invisible emissions

Almost half of the emission increase in China is due to production of exports, most of it to western countries, according to a new report.
Rich countries are contributing to the emission increases in developing nations, but this is not accounted for in international negotiations.
 
The report “Journey to world top emitter”, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, states that Chinese CO2 emissions increased by 45 percent from 2002 to 2005. Half of the increase was due to export production, 60 percent of which was exported to western countries. Electronic commodities and metals are important products.
 
Only 7 percent of the emissions increase was triggered through househould consumption in China, the researchers from the University of Cambridge, CICERO, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Leeds found. 

Global system

– This makes us reflect on how we are a part of a global system, and how we partly drive emissions in other countries. It is important to take at least some responsibility for problems that we cause indirectly in other countries, says Glen Peters, researcher at Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).
 
Electronic products, metals, chemicals, and machinery are export products contributing largely to the emissions increase.
 
– This doesn’t mean that trade is a bad thing. The problem is rather the type of products and how they are produced. It wouldn’t be so bad if China used its comparative advantage to produce products that meet global environmental objectives, he says. 

Carbon leakage

International climate agreements do not account for how emissions cross national borders because of imports and exports. In the Kyoto Protocol, every country is responsible for emissions on its own territory.
 
The process where a country reduces emissions on its own territory but increases imports is known as «carbon leakage».
 
– We do not need to completely redesign Kyoto, but we could include incremental changes that address carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns. Climate policy could be designed in similar ways to existing tax policy. For example we could design carbon taxes in a similar way to value-added taxation which covers imported products. In that way the consumer would pay for the emissions caused by his or her consumption, Glen Peters says.
 
Following exports, capital formation – primarily construction – is the second largest driver of the emissions increase in China.
 
The report can be downloaded by AGU members here 

Last updated: 24.02.09

EXPORTS. Exports to developed nations account for a large part of China

EXPORTS. Exports to developed nations account for a large part of China's emissions increase. Photo: Stockxpert

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