It’s no secret that the developed world exports it’s consumer manufacturing along with the resulting pollution, exploitation, and environmental degradation to the factories of the developing world. However, the carbon emissions from this process accrue to a shared atmosphere that can’t be isolated in another country far from our point of consumption.
As it stands now, most emissions data focuses on the production side of our consumer society. For example, the factory that makes your gadget in China contributes to China’s emissions count. When that same gadget is shipped to a UK consumer it does not count towards the UK’s emissions count. Barrett showed that the result of this approach has led to what he called “carbon leakage.” He said that as countries become more and more service based, with demand for products and services met by imports rather than production, the overall amount of carbon leakage goes up. “The volume of emissions that are not counted goes up.” This lack of accounting for growing imports of consumer goods shows up directly in the UK’s emissions records. According to Barrett’s data, there is a discrepancy between the UK’s Kyoto emissions reporting and his research into UK consumer emissions: the Kyoto numbers show an overall emissions reduction in the UK, but consumer emissions have actually gone up in the same time period!