Azara Blog: Carbon emissions not being counted correctly

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Date published: 2005/12/19

The BBC says:

New research from the US shows that trade can significantly affect emissions of greenhouse gases.

Researchers found that US imports of goods from China cause a greater production of carbon dioxide than if the goods were made in the US.

Factories in developing countries tend to use more energy than in the west.

The researchers say emissions control measures such as the Kyoto Protocol could "export" carbon-intensive industries to the developing world.

This has long been a contention raised by critics of the Protocol.

In a briefing just before the UN climate negotiations in Montreal, President Bush's chief environmental advisor James Connaughton told reporters that setting targets for emissions may "...cause a shift offshore of some energy-intensive industries.

"This probably equates to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, as it's a shift to countries which are probably less efficient than the US," he said.

This issue of "carbon leakage" is matched in controversy potential by another related argument; that western countries own up to emissions produced within their shores, when in fact they should be responsible for all emissions connected with the goods and products which they consume.

They are "saving" their own emissions, the argument goes, at the expense of developing countries.

This is indeed the major flaw in the Kyoto Protocol and in most of the arguments of the so-called environmentalists about emissions. There is no point counting emissions you produce directly if you ignore the emissions you produce indirectly. (The same silly reasoning is used when claiming that so-called public transport is somehow energy efficient. It is only so if you ignore all the indirect energy consumption.) Of course this trade swap works only as long as the rich countries have sufficiently desirable low-emission goods and services to offer the poor countries in return. Eventually the rich countries may no longer be able to offer enough low-emission goods and services which the poor countries want, and so the amount of high-emission imports the rich countries will be able to afford to buy will decrease, i.e. the rich countries will become poor(er). That might take some years to happen.

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