Trade shifts help rich meet climate goals: study

OSLO Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:46pm EDT

OSLO (Reuters) - The shift in manufacturing to emerging nations is doing more to curb rich countries' greenhouse gas emissions than measures they are taking to meet the U.N. pact to fight climate change, a study showed.

Rich nations benefit from U.N. rules which record greenhouse gases -- mainly from burning fossil fuels -- as those coming from each country's territory. Emissions to make a car in South Korea, for instance, remain South Korean even if the car is exported to the United States.

So the transfer of the manufacture of goods such as televisions, fridges, steel or clothing to nations such as China or India has masked rising emissions since 1990 in developed nations where many of the products are consumed, the study said.

"If you look at territorial emissions you are only looking at half the picture," Glen Peters, lead author at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research -- Oslo, told Reuters of the study published late on Monday.

The report, by experts in the United States, Germany and Norway, said the hidden net emissions' transfers via trade from emerging nations to rich countries surged to 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2008 from 400 million in 1990.

Recent levels far exceed curbs by developed countries of about 700 million tonnes a year under the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol, the main pact for curbing global warming until 2012.

Kyoto obliges almost 40 industrialized nations to cut their territorial emissions by at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012 as a tiny step to avert more droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

STABLE OR CUT

"Developed countries with emission commitments under Kyoto have reported stabilized emissions from a territorial perspective since 1990," Peters said. "But when you include imports, emissions are increasing."

"And the opposite happens in emerging countries. China's consumption has increased quite a lot but their territorial emissions are increasing far less," he said. Emerging nations have no obligations to cut emissions by 2012 under Kyoto.

Based on territorial emissions, China was the top emitter in 2008 ahead of the United States, India, Russia and Japan, it said. Including consumption, the United States was top ahead of China, India, Japan and Russia.

The scientists, writing in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, urged a shift in U.N. accounting to reflect consumption, or the "carbon footprint" of each nation, rather than production.

"We suggest that countries monitor emission transfers via international trade, in addition to territorial emissions," they wrote.

Overall, by U.N. accounting measures, world carbon dioxide emissions leapt to 30.3 billion tonnes in 2008 from 21.9 billion in 1990. Emissions by developed nations largely stabilized during the period while those of poor nations doubled.

Overall, emissions from the production of exported goods and services accounted for 26 percent of world emissions of carbon dioxide in 2008, it said.

That is more than emissions caused by tropical deforestation -- a major theme in world talks on a new deal to succeed Kyoto while the impact of trade is largely overlooked, Peters said.