New Study Tracks ‘Outsourcing’ of Greenhouse Gas Emissions


More than one-third of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with consumer goods used in developed nations is actually emitted in other nations where the products are made, according to a new study.

In the United States, about 2.5 tons of carbon produced per person annually — or about 11 percent of U.S. per capita emissions — are emitted elsewhere, researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science say.

In Europe, it’s about four tons of carbon per person. In fact, in smaller European nations like Switzerland, the emissions associated with products manufactured outside the borders exceed the actual emissions produced at home.

Using 2004 trade data from 113 countries and regions, the authors of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were able to construct a global model of the flow of “imported” and “exported” emissions, most of which are “outsourced” to developing nations. The biggest “importer” by far is China, they said.

“Just like the electricity that you use in your home probably causes CO2 emissions at a coal-burning power plant somewhere else, we found that the products imported by the developed countries of western Europe, Japan, and the United States cause substantial emissions in other countries, especially China,” said lead author Steven Davis.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

image: Steven Davis/Carnegie Institution for Science

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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