There has been a trend in recent years to outsource certain elements of UK businesses to operations overseas. Customer call centres are perhaps the most notorious example. Worryingly, it seems that UK consumers have been doing the same, but with the things they buy and the result has been that our carbon dioxide emissions are effectively being outsourced too.

The UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide have reduced between 1990 and 2008 by 19% – mostly as a result of switching to gas rather than coal to fuel our electricity generating power stations.  But a new report commissioned by the Energy and Climate Change Committee has shown that the UK’s carbon footprint actually grew in that same period by 20%.

Why?  Well, it’s because we not only have cleaner power stations, we also manufacture less in the UK.  That means that our CO2 emissions have fallen.  But if you include the CO2 emitted by the manufacture of the goods that we import from other countries, China for example, we’re actually producing more CO2 than ever.  Many other countries don’t have policies on reducing CO2 emissions that are as stringent as our own.

Energy and Climate Change Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: “Successive governments have claimed to be cutting climate change emissions, but in fact a lot of pollution has simply been outsourced.”

It’s refreshing to see this honest approach, but it’s also a shame to find that we’re not really making any progress on reducing our CO2 emissions.  The trouble is that we’re such a consumer society.  We’re always buying new stuff and lots of it comes from overseas.  Just because it wasn’t made here doesn’t mean it has no environmental impact.

This demonstrates what we’ve known for a long time.  You can’t bring down carbon emissions in isolation.  No matter how tough regulation is in the UK, unless the rest of the world is playing its part too, significant reductions in CO2 emissions aren’t going to happen.  What’s needed is a global agreement.  But in the meantime, greater investment in renewable energy generation for the UK would definitely be worthwhile and would set us up nicely for a low carbon future.

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