The UK is small compared to China, so does it really make any difference what we do?

The UK is small compared to China, so does it really make any difference what we do?

The UK’s territorial emissions may only be around 1% of total global emissions, but that still puts us near the top: 17th out of 195 countries. And if we account for our cumulative historic emission (still affecting the climate), we are in 5th place – thanks to leading the world into the industrial revolution.

How can we expect China to listen to us about its coal power stations if our house is far from in order? Zero Hour’s Ambition Gap report sets out how the UK’s emissions targets fall far short of what’s required to limit warming to 1.5°C.

It’s also important to acknowledge that China’s emissions are high because they are making our stuff after we moved so much manufacturing overseas. UK is the largest net importer of CO2 emissions in the G7.

The CAN Bill would require that we account for emissions caused by manufacturing the goods we import. The great news is that this is likely to lead to policies like the EU’s recently proposed carbon border tax, giving British companies producing lower carbon products here in the UK an advantage, helping bring back manufacturing and jobs. This will also take the pressure off China to build coal power stations.

We still have the opportunity to lead by example, showing the world a path out of this crisis – but the window for acting is fast closing.

When you look at emissions per person, we’re even nearer the top at 8th in the world as the graph below shows. On cumulative emissions from the start of the industrial revolution, we are in 5th place: don’t forget, most of the greenhouse gases emitted since then are still in the atmosphere, or, just as bad, dissolved into the oceans, raising acidity.

These rankings are based on territorial emissions – occurring within our national borders. But many of our companies have outsourced their manufacturing to countries like China over recent decades. When we order those products imported from abroad, the resulting manufacturing emissions are due to our consumption decisions. The goods would not have been produced were it not for our demand. It’s only fair then to add these emissions to our account.. Imports, along with international aviation and shipping, are currently not addressed by the UK’s emissions reduction plans – despite being estimated by the WWF at as much as 46% of our carbon footprint.

The Bill requires the immediate addition of imports, aviation and shipping, to give a full picture of our global carbon footprint.

Discover more frequently asked questions about Zero Hour, the Climate & Nature Bill, Climate Change, and the Nature Crisis.

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