CO2 Responsability

CO2 and GHG emissions

7.5 The responsibility for carbon footprints


To what extent should Western consumers take responsibility for the things they buy and do? If, say, a UK consumer purchases a TV manufactured in China, which nation should take responsibility for the emissions incurred during its manufacture? This dilemma illustrates two different accounting approaches that must be untangled as we strive to devise strategies for a more sustainable future. According to accounting by the production perspective, China should take responsibility as the emissions arose on Chinese territory and China earns money from selling the TV. This is the approach used in the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. It is the most commonly used accounting approach, but it is not really fair. It might even invite to be bypassed. An alternative is the consumption perspective. According to this perspective, the UK should take responsibility, as a UK consumer is the primary beneficiary of the final product. If no-one would buy this TV, there is no need to export, import, or even produce this TV, which means zero contamination.

To know which accounting perspective is used is important to be able to calculate the real effects of greenhouse gas emission reduction programs. According to the production perspective, many Western economies are successfully reducing their carbon emissions. However, when the consumption perspective is used for accounting, it creates a whole different perspective. Not only are carbon emissions often found to be higher than compared to the production accounts, but they even tend to exhibit a rising trend. An example of the importance of the carbon embedded in trade is given by Li and Hewitt (2008) who found that, through trade with China, the UK reduced its production-based carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 11% in 2004, compared with a non-trade scenario in which the same type and volume of goods are produced in the UK. Not only has the overall global CO2 not decreased, it might have increased, as these end products now also have to be transported from China into the UK. Similar difficulties are involved in calculating the CO2 emission of international tourism. Personally I would hold the end-user responsible. This means that the tourists should be held responsible for both the negative and positive effects of their activities.

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