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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
UK 'exporting emissions' to China

Miner pushing coal wagon.  Image: AFP/Getty
China's rising coal consumption is partly to make western goods
The UK's increasing dependence on Chinese goods is contributing to a rise in carbon emissions, a report suggests.

The New Economic Foundation (Nef) says such reliance is adding to CO2 levels because China's factories produce more CO2 per item than British ones.

The report also says many similar goods are both imported and exported, adding needlessly to CO2 output in transport.

Over the last year, UK imports from China rose by 10% nearing 6.5 million tonnes, Nef reports.

This is the second year that the London-based think-tank has produced an "Interdependence Day" report on the extent to which Britain's economy is tied up with imports from, and impacts on, the developing world.

Every time we hear a government minister talking about climate change, they seem to be scapegoating China and its rising emissions
Andrew Simms
Last year Nef found that global consumption levels pushed the world into "ecological debt" on 9 October; this year, it says, we are in debt three days earlier.

Ecological debt means that our demands exceed the Earth's ability to supply resources and absorb the demands placed upon it.

Polluter pays?

The organisation calculates that Chinese factories produce about one-third more carbon than European ones for making the same product; and more CO2 will be produced in transporting the goods.

"Every time we hear a government minister talking about climate change, they seem to be drawn towards scapegoating China and its rising emissions," said Nef's policy director Andrew Simms.

Air pollution from a factory in north-eastern China

"But a big factor in that rise is that China has become the major factory for the western world, so their greenhouse gas emissions are largely driven by higher levels of consumption in the west."

Two years ago, US researchers calculated that 14% of China's carbon dioxide emissions were accounted for by exports to the US.

Nef believes that international negotiations on climate change should move towards a system where emissions are attributed to the end user rather than the country producing the goods.

It points out that rising production of consumer goods in China and other developing countries also contributes to local pollution, depletion of water supplies, and deforestation.

'Wasteful trade'

Nef also said the international trade pattern prompted higher greenhouse gas emissions from transport but had little discernible benefit for the consumer.

During 2006, the UK exported 15,845 tonnes of chocolate-covered waffles and wafers, but imported 14,137 tonnes.

During the same period, 20 tonnes of mineral water were exported by the UK to Australia, while the UK imported 21 tonnes. And thirty-four tonnes of vacuum cleaners went from the UK to Canada, with 47 tonnes travelling the other way.

"Why would that wasteful trade be more the rule than the exception?" asked Andrew Simms.

He suggested that a pricing system that reflected carbon produced in transport would be an effective way of curbing this two-way trading, by making local goods cheaper.

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China gas emissions 'may pass US'
24 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
The devil in the retail
16 Mar 07 |  Science/Nature
Planet enters 'ecological debt'
09 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature
Britain now 'eating the planet'
15 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature
Trade can 'export' CO2 emissions
19 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature

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