Measuring a Different Type of Outsourcing: CO2 Emissions
Analysts have debated for years how to measure greenhouse gas emissions that occur when items are manufactured in one location, and imported into another. Should the responsibility for environmental impact rest on the shoulders of the exporter or the importer?
Two scientists from the Carnegie Institution For Science, a think tank founded by Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s, have attempted to measure the outsourcing of CO2 by producing a database that analyzes environmental impact based on where the product is used. Steven Davis and Ken Caldeira estimate one-third of emissions associated with consumption in developed countries are actually produced outside those countries. The study, presented in December and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tries to provide hard data regarding local carbon dioxide consumption versus how much is included in imported goods.
Although China emits large quantities of CO2 due to coal-fired power, many of its products end up in the United States and European Union countries, where power usage if more efficient. About 25% of emissions went toward production of exported goods, most of which ended up in Western Europe and the US. The study also attempts to measure per capita consumption, showing the US leading China, which follows in second place. Per capita consumption is higher in developed countries and lowest in third world nations.
“Sharing responsibility for emissions among producers and consumers”, David and Caldeira suggest, “could facilitate international agreement on global climate policy that is now hindered by concerns over the regional and historical inequity of emissions.”