China pollution

Rich nations outsourcing pollution to China, says UN report

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 4:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 9:15am

The world's richest countries are increasingly outsourcing their carbon pollution to China and other rising economies, according to a draft UN report.

The problem stems from electronic devices such as smartphones, cheap clothes and other goods being made in China and other rising economies but consumed in the US and Europe.

The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases warming the planet grew twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century than during the previous three decades.

Much of that rise was due to the burning of coal. And much of that coal went to power factories in rising economies that produce goods for US and European consumers.

Since 2000, annual carbon dioxide emissions for rising economies more than doubled to nearly 14 billion tonnes a year, according to the draft report. But about 2 billion tonnes a year of that was produced making goods for export.

"A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle income countries to high-income countries," the report says.

Other middle-income countries, with smaller exports, saw a more gradual rise in emissions. For the poorest countries in the world, however, emissions have flatlined since 1990.

Factories in China and other rising economies now produce more carbon pollution than industries in America and Europe.

"A growing share of global emissions is released in the manufacture of products that are traded across international borders," the draft says.

The newly wealthy elites of China, India and Brazil are flying more, buying more cars and otherwise fuelling the consumption that is driving climate change.

But their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are still below those in America and Europe, a gap that China and India regularly cite at climate talks to deflect pressure to cut emissions.

The outsourcing of emissions has skewed efforts to account for all global emissions, which typically was conducted on a national basis. Those accounting efforts are no longer accurate, according to analysts.

"If we are just looking at our national inventory to understand the emissions trends, it is just not telling the full picture of our impacts," said Cynthia Cummis, an expert on greenhouse gas accounting at the World Resources Institute. "We need to understand the full life cycle of all the goods and services that we are purchasing and selling.

"The consumers that are importing those goods have some responsibility for those goods that are happening outside of our boundaries," Cummis said.

The 29-page draft, a summary for policymakers, was dated December 17. An edited version is due to be published in Germany in April.

The report is the third in a series of reports by the IPCC, summing up the state of the climate crisis since 2007 and prospects for solutions. The first part was released in September.

The draft report is stark about the chances of avoiding dangerous climate change - especially if deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are pushed back beyond 2030.

Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius since the dawning of the industrial age, the report says.

Unless there are deep cuts in emissions - up to 70 per cent of current levels by 2050 - or a near-quadrupling of renewable energy, governments may have to fall back increasingly on experimental technologies for sucking carbon dioxide from the air to avoid dangerous warming, the report says.