The United Kingdom has had significant success in reducing its carbon emissions, and will almost certainly succeed in meeting its commitments under the Kyoto accord.
Long term the trend is clear:
Having said that, I am typing this on a laptop made in China, while listening to music on my iPod, made in China, using speakers, also made in China. Now, I suspect the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere when these products were manufactured are not on the UK’s books. In a world where anything can be made anywhere and consumed any place it is equally important to ask about the carbon footprint of our consumption.
Fortunately, the UK government recently updated its statistics on the UK’s consumption footprint, which tells a rather different story than that under the Kyoto narrative.
In straightforward terms the UK is manufacturing less, and exporting most of its old manufacturing to China. The emissions mostly go on their books, and we can applaud ourselves for meeting our Kyoto targets.
The problem of “carbon leakage” has to be faced honestly, and without special pleading. Consider the recent report from the Tyndall Centre on the impact of US fracking on carbon emissions. The report concluded that shale gas while reducing coal use in the US was also driving up coal exports from the US. Perfectly true, yet one must ask how this is not also true of renewables or nuclear energy.
Carbon leakage is a problem in need of a solution. My own view is that Dieter Helm appears to be on the money on this with his suggestion that countries should put a carbon tax on imports. There are other possible solutions to this. For example broadening cap and trade regimes, such as Australia’s decision to join up with the European Emissions Trading Scheme. (Some of us, of course, are inclined to view cap and trade as “half assed.”)
A final note: while illusory it is also worth while quantifying how illusory emissions cuts are. And also how much carbon leakage will result from various policies. This is something I haven’t seen much of, though may be someone can’t be point me in the right direction in the comments section. However, some things, such as switching from coal to gas in America, may be a lot less leaky than others.