State Emissions Profiles and International Trade

There’s a very interesting potential reading in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focusing on the implications of international trade for attribution of greenhouse gas emissions between developing and developing countries, Glen P. Peters, et al., Growth in Emissions Transfers via International Grade from 1990 to 2008, 108(21) PNAS 8903-8908 (2011) (Open Access). The study, which employed a trade-linked global database for the carbon dioxide emissions of 113 countries and 57 economic sectors from 1990 to 2008  yields some striking results with large implications for questions of equity and the role of trade measures  in climate change policy.

Among the take-aways of the study:

  1. Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide have risen 39% from 1990 to 2008, with growth accelerating in the past decade;
  2. Global carbon dioxide emissions from the production of exported products have increased from 20% of global CO2 emissions in 1990 to 26%, similar in magnitude to land-use change-related emissions
    1. Trade-linked emissions grew 4.3% per year, far father than growth of global population, at 1.4% annually:
  3. Estimated Annex B emissions were reduced by 2% from 1990-2008; however, international trade  “relocated” 16 Gt CO2 from Annex B to non-Annex B States during this period, a net emission transfer 520% higher in 2008 from 1990
    1. Net emission transfers could rise to approximately 16% of Annex B emissions in 2020, comparable to the most optimistic projection for emissions reductions by Annex B States under the Copenhagen Accord
  4. In terms of consumption-based inventories, 11% of the growth of global carbon dioxide emissions is attributable to Annex B consumption; thus, a significant portion of the growth of consumption in Annex B States is masked in the emissions statistics of developing countries
    1. Even in the case of the European Union, which reduced its territorial emissions by 6% from 1990-2008, the increase in consumption emissions from non-Annex B countries are larger than these reductions
  5. Chinese emissions accounted for 55% of carbon dioxide emissions growth from 1990-2008, with Chinese exports accounting for 18% of growth in global carbon dioxide emissions;
  6. Increases in consumption in Annex B countries has thus caused an increase I global emissions that is masked by statistics only of terrestrial reductions;
  7. The limited analysis of emissions and trade data conducted to date indicates that bulk of emissions transfers from Annex B to developing countries don’t reflect carbon leakage associated with climate policies, but rather othe economic and policy factors.

This article could generate some good class discussion on a number of issues, including the following:

  1. Should the emissions of developing countries associated with exports to developed countries somehow be accounted for in the greenhouse gas inventories of Annex B countries under Kyoto Protocol and any successor?
  2. Does the evidence that a substantial portion of developing countries’ greenhouse gas emissions are associated with exports to developed countries argue against efforts to enact tariff or other barriers against products of developing countries that fail to enter into binding commitments to reduce their emissions?
  3. How might we determine if purported shifts in greenhouse gas emissions to developing countries are associated with efforts to reduce emissions in developed countries?

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