While domestic emissions have fallen, increased imports have pushed up the UK's overall carbon footprint

Import emissions push up UK carbon footprint

Carbon emissions from increasing imports have pushed the UK's overall carbon footprint up by a tenth in the last two decades.

The amount of emissions the country has produced domestically has fallen by around 20 per cent over two decades, the Government's climate advisers the Committee on Climate Change said.

But increased imports of goods from overseas, which create emissions during their manufacture in other countries, are pushing up the overall total of greenhouse gases for which the UK is responsible, the new report said.

The report revealed concerns that policies which aim to cut carbon emissions in the UK are pushing manufacturing overseas are unfounded, however.

The committee's chief executive, David Kennedy, said: "We would not expect to see industry in the UK closed down in the future because of low-carbon policies."

The hike in imported emissions is down to rising incomes which increase demand for consumer goods that, as a result of globalisation, are mostly manufactured elsewhere.

The report also looked at the risk of pushing abroad industries which use large amounts of electricity, as a result of policies to cut emissions that will drive up energy bills.

It found that the risk is already being managed by Government policies and funding to protect energy-intensive industries, which are expected to increase household electricity bills by just £5 by 2020.

And despite the rise in the UK's carbon footprint as a result of imports, more than half of the country's emissions are caused domestically so it is appropriate to take action to cut greenhouse gases in this country, the committee said.

The Government's advisers also said the best way to bring down the UK's imported emissions is through pushing for a global deal to tackle climate change, which would bring down emissions in other countries.

Meeting the UK's legally-binding targets to cut emissions and a reduction in imported emissions as a result of a strong international climate deal would reduce the UK's carbon footprint by around 70 per cent over coming decades.

Mr Kennedy said: "The focus on reducing UK production emissions remains appropriate, given that these form a major part of our carbon footprint, and given available policy levers.

"Clearly we also need to reduce imported emissions. This highlights the fundamental need to reduce global emissions in order to achieve climate objectives and to do this through a new global deal."

The report also examines the carbon footprint of shale gas, which is extracted through the controversial process of "fracking", and finds it has similar emissions to other natural gas, and lower than "LNG" which is imported to the UK from Qatar.

Shale gas could play a role in replacing imported gas, for example for heating, but the report does not back a "dash for gas" to supply electricity instead of investment in low-carbon power sources.

The report confirms that key low-carbon technologies, including electric vehicles, nuclear power and wind farms do deliver significant carbon savings compared with fossil fuels throughout their lifecycle, from production to operation and disposal.

And it finds that technology to capture carbon from fossil fuel power stations and store them permanently underground have higher emissions across its lifetime than nuclear or renewables, particularly if it is used on coal.

Carbon capture and storage should only be used as part of a mix of technologies and should be used on gas power plants where possible rather than coal.

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