NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Outsourcing Carbon Emissions

June 20, 2011

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, says H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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 because of their economic collapse in the 1990s, the increase in emissions jumps up to 12 percent.

  • 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.

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says, "This shows the difficulty in reducing emissions overall.  It's like squeezing a balloon -- squeeze on one end, and the other end blows up."

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Greenhouse Gas Cuts Proving Illusory," Heartland Institute, June 13, 2011.

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