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Countries and individuals can do a better job addressing climate change when they understand the true sources of their emissions, whether generated at home or in the manufacture and shipping of products from around the globe.  This was the message presented by researchers at a side event at the UN climate change negotiations in Bonn. Achieving this goal faces quite a few challenges.

The event's discussions matched well with the theme of this year’s World Environment Day, June 5: “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care”

Most emissions accounting looks at where emissions are produced not where they are consumed. However, some 20-25% of carbon dioxide emissions are from the production of internationally traded products. The important question then arises: who is responsible for those emissions, the producer or consumer? Notwithstanding that debate, greater transparency in the accounting process can only help to reach balanced and equitable conclusions. 

Gilberto Arias of Energeia Network and a member of the Marshall Islands delegation to the UNFCCC said he foresees “consumption-based carbon accounting and policies” evolving and leading to an era of “collaborative, cooperative low-carbon development. This is a wonderful message for this [UNFCCC] process – carbon reduction as a tool for development.”

Accounting Methods Constantly Improving

Ways of accounting for and modeling emissions associated with consumption are available and improving, said the panel of researchers funded by the European Union. These can be used to develop and assess the usefulness of policy strategies aimed at addressing these emissions, for example through product labeling, regulatory standards, supply-chain procurement requirements and financial support for low-emitting alternatives.

While accounting for emissions at the level of consumption is straightforward, albeit still requiring improvement, crafting policies that take into account human behavior leads to an “explosion” of factors and “administrative complexity,” said Michael Grubb of University College London.

Still, in time the research should produce a “portfolio of consumption-based policies that shifts the burden back to developed countries” and reduces production and consumption-based emissions in developing countries, said Annela Anger-Kraavi of Cambridge Econometrics.

Sonja Hawkins of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development stressed the importance of understanding the direct and indirect consequences of climate action, possible “distortions” and “spillover effects on trade” when setting climate policy. "Trade is an engine for growth and a resource for climate action,” she said.

For more information visit the Carbon-CAP – Consumption-based Accounting and Policy website. 


Pic by Cyril Caton, Flickr

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