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Report shows need to cut imported as well as domestic emissions – 24 April 2013

Reductions of around 20% in production emissions over the last two decades has limited growth in the UK’s carbon footprint, says the Committee on Climate Change in its latest report released today. However, the report also estimates that the carbon footprint has increased by 10% or more. This is due to increased imports as incomes have grown and manufacturing has shifted to other countries as part of the broader globalisation process.

The report considers whether carbon policies have contributed to this shift in manufacturing, but concludes that this is not the case. It also considers competitiveness risks in future due to low carbon policies, including the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) aimed at supporting the transition to a low-carbon power system. The report finds that these risks are manageable within policies and funding already announced by the Government. These policies could increase electricity bills for the typical household by around £5 in 2020.

The report highlights the essential role of a global deal to drive emissions reductions across countries and achieve climate objectives. This would also reduce the UK’s imported emissions, which together with deep cuts in domestic emissions required under the Climate Change Act would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by around 70% over the next decades.

David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change, 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 confirms that key low-carbon technologies (in power, heat and surface transport) offer significant savings over fossil fuel on a lifecycle basis (i.e. factoring in emissions from manufacture, operation and disposal).

The report also assesses the carbon footprint of shale gas and finds that this can be comparable with conventional natural gas, and lower than LNG, if appropriate regulatory arrangements are in place. It concludes that there may be a role for UK shale gas substituting imported gas, for example in meeting heat demand, if other environmental concerns can be addressed. But the report is very clear that shale gas should not be seen as a viable alternative to investment in low-carbon technologies in the power sector.

Notes to editors

  • The UK’s carbon footprint consists of : production emissions from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, in transport including aviation and shipping, and industrial production; direct emissions from heating in households and businesses, as well as emissions related to a number of other activities such as agricultural, forestry, and waste management activities; and imported emissions (embedded in our consumption of imported goods and services).