Whatever George Monbiot says, it simply isn’t true that UK greenhouse gas emissions are still growing rapidly. Monbiot is right to insist that we move from focusing just on UK-based emissions and include the impact of our imports. But even if you include the embedded greenhouse gases in goods brought into the country, domestic and imported emissions have fallen sharply since 2004. The latest data is as follows.
Yes, the share of CO2 emissions represented by imports (the blue area in the chart) has grown sharply since 1993. And 2010 saw a clear uptick. However, even with the rise of ‘embodied’ CO2, the grand total has decreased significantly since 2004. Total emissions of CO2 were down from a peak of 852m tonnes to 722m tonnes in 2010, a fall of 15%. It’s important to note that the steep decline began four years before the economic contraction started.
The chart above just covers CO2. The same pattern applies if you look at all greenhouse gases.
The Monbiot theme worries me. He suggests that material consumption is rapidly increasing and, therefore, that our environmental problems will be mitigated by a reduction in the goods we buy. I suspect that nothing turns people away from environmentalism more than its consistent refrain that we are all guilty of destroying the planet by our increasingly profligate consumption.
He doesn’t say this directly, but he implies that UK imports from China are a particular issue, exemplifying why we need to change our ways. He might be startled by another chart.
The emissions in China arising from production for the UK market are neither rising, nor particularly large. Emissions from ‘Rest of the World’ countries are over twice as great, partly driven by methane emissions in agriculture. Meat, I suggest, is more of a problem than iPads, even if you believe George’s story.