Greenhouse Gas Cuts Proving Illusory

Published June 13, 2011

Recent greenhouse gas emissions cuts reported by developed nations are illusory, a new peer-reviewed study has found, as many of the cuts have occurred simply as a result of industries relocating to developing nations such as China and India.

Migrating Emissions
As analysts and some politicians recognized when debating the Kyoto protocol, rapid economic growth in developing nations has offset the emissions cuts in industrialized economies. Much of that growth has occurred in China and India as a result of lower wages for workers and less stringent pollution controls and environmental standards.

Ironically, industries that have recently moved overseas merely export the same goods back to developed nations, such that global greenhouse gas emissions are unaffected or actually increase.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines the extent of “outsourced” carbon emissions. Conducted by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway, the study finds emissions from increased production of internationally traded products have more than offset the emissions reductions achieved under the Kyoto Protocol.

While developed nations reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent from 1990 to 2008, when imports are factored in, those emissions actually increased 7 percent during that time. If Russia and Ukraine are excluded becasue of their economic collapse in the ’90s, the increase in emissions jumps up to 12 percent.

China Is Key
Accounting for 75 percent of the world’s outsourced emissions and 75 percent of the growth in global emissions during the past decade, China is by far the leading exporter of emissions. China’s rapid economic growth has stemmed primarily from its largely export-based economy. However, although China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, if emissions generated in the production of goods for export are removed, China’s carbon footprint drops below that of the United States.

‘Like Squeezing a Balloon’
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said, “This shows the difficulty in reducing emissions overall. It’s like squeezing a balloon—squeeze on one end, and the other end blows up. It’s the same thing here.

“This just shows that as long as people want a higher standard of living, it will be very difficult to reduce emissions,” he explained. “Jobs lost in one place will shift to another. Purchases will not be reduced, but imported products will be bought in the place of [previously] domestically produced products. No treaty that doesn’t account for this reality can succeed.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.