Azara Blog: Christian Aid claims Britain's greenhouse gas emissions are much worse than stated

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Date published: 2007/02/19

The BBC says:

Official greenhouse gas figures hugely underestimate Britain's contribution to climate change, a report concludes.

Christian Aid says adding in emissions from UK-funded operations in other countries would raise the UK's share of the global total from 2% to about 15%.

British companies wanted globalisation, it says, and must take responsibility for the associated emissions.

The charity is calling on the government to ensure that companies measure their emissions thoroughly.

"Our research reveals a truly staggering quantity of unreported carbon dioxide is emitted around the world by the top 100 companies on the London Stock Exchange," said Christian Aid's senior climate change analyst, Andrew Pendleton.

"The government should now oblige companies to report their emissions properly," he told the BBC News website. "In our view, this is a litmus test of how serious they are about climate change."

Working with the environmental research company Trucost, Christian Aid attempted to calculate emissions associated with FTSE-100 companies.

"While only 2.13% of the world's CO2 emissions emanate from the UK's domestic economy," says the report, entitled Coming Clean, "through the process of globalisation, CO2 is emitted around the world on Britain's behalf, in China, India, Africa and elsewhere.

"Britain's apparently light carbon footprint rapidly begins to assume a much greater profile when worldwide investments made with British money, through the mighty City of London, are taken into account."

About one thing Christian Aid is correct. Official greenhouse gas figures are not correct because they completely ignore trade. But the way Christian Aid wants to go about calculating the correct figures is equally nonsensical. In particular, anyone who thinks that the UK is responsible for 15% of emissions has no credibility (if we were that rich we would all be living in palaces). The problem is that Christian Aid wants to make the figures look as bad as possible, rather than doing a serious analysis.

The worldwide investments of the UK are not by themselves a good proxy for emissions (especially the way that Christian Aid has done it, with such a silly result). What you should really be counting is the emissions created to make the goods and services that the UK consumes, minus those that the UK makes on someone else's behalf, with some contribution from investments (but both ways, in and out) because they represent deferred consumption. This is a non-trivial calculation to make. Almost certainly today you will come up with approximately the same answer as, but slightly higher than, the official 2% figure. But in future, as the EU requires a reduction in the official, but not unofficial, emissions for EU countries, the official and unofficial figures can be expected to diverge markably.

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