Climate policies mainly focus on emissions related to production. Yet growing consumption is a main driver behind rising greenhouse gases. In addition, our economy is increasingly global: international trade has risen threefold since 1990.
An example of what this means in practice is shown by European countries. While emissions produced within the European Union (EU) declined 13% from 1990 to 2010, its carbon footprint increased by 8%, as demand for consumer goods and services was often met by imports from other parts of the world. In essence, current emissions accounting allows countries to import carbon intensive products without assuming responsibility for the CO2 in their production.
The urgency of tackling climate change therefore requires expanding carbon accounting to international trade and complementing policies focused on production with consumption-based approaches.
These were the objectives of the Carbon-CAP project. Carbon-CAP (project full title: Carbon emission mitigation by Consumption-based Accounting and Policy) aimed at stimulating an effective climate policy mix in the EU and internationally to address emissions related to consumption, in addition to those related to production.
In the European Union there are a number of policies addressing consumption, some voluntary and some regulatory. For example there are policies to phase out the most inefficient appliances and improve the energy performance of buildings. However, the project came to the conclusion that the EU should start recognising and quantifying consumption-based emissions and embodied carbon in trade in order to keep climate change below the agreed targets of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim to stay below 1.5 °C.