The government won’t reduce emissions, it will just outsource them


8:55 am - June 2nd 2011

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contribution by Guy Shrubsole and Alex Randall

The news that global emissions continue to skyrocket is a solemn reminder that climate change, though absent from the headlines of late, remains the world’s most intractable and urgent problem.

One might think, given the government’s recent announcement of targets to cut Britain’s emissions in half by 2025, that we have our own house fully in order. Think again – the new targets contain a major loophole allowing our emissions to carry on going up, even while the government claim they are going down.

Fresh research from the Carbon Trust – and a tranche of government briefings which we obtained recently under the Freedom of Information Act – show how Britain has managed to partially outsource its carbon emissions to other countries where they are beyond regulation and measurement.

It works rather nicely for the government and British consumers that for a number of reasons the UK’s high emitting activities have moved abroad: cheaper labour costs; less stringent environmental regulations; the globalisation of markets and the UK’s shift from manufacturing to a service economy.

It’s convenient in helping to make it appear that the UK is reducing its emissions.

It’s clear that we’ve also outsourced a lot of industrial accidents, toxic recycling processes and localised pollution problems. We’re all happy to consume the cheap goods that result from this. Disrupting this myth benefits no-one – apart from people in developing countries, future generations, and the planet itself, of course.

But perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, Britain has a long history of moving things offshore, as Nick Shaxson has shown in his insightful survey of tax havens, Treasure Islands.

As the book shows, going offshore isn’t just about avoiding tax – it’s also about avoiding regulations and scrutiny. In outsourcing our emissions we achieve exactly the same: they lie outside the remit of British climate regulations and are less able to be easily measured or addressed.

As Canadian academic Peter Dauvergene argues in his book The Shadows of Consumption, slippery labour and capital markets, too, tend to push the environmental and social costs of production into poorer countries and away from the eyes of rich consumers.

The government can begin by being honest about the problem and start measuring outsourced emissions. But altering the circumstances that lead to them, and the injustices they incur, is going to take a while longer.


Alex Randall is an environmental campaigner and researcher. Guy Shrubsole is Director of Public Interest Research Centre.

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Reader comments


This is probably the most confused post I’ve ever read on LC.

Tax havens are killing the polar bears!!!!!

I notice one of the authors works for a fake charity which claims they are “accomplished at presenting science to non-scientists.”

Pagar screams soundlessly……………..

Being deliberately obtuse Pagar?

“As the book shows, going offshore isn’t just about avoiding tax – it’s also about avoiding regulations and scrutiny. In outsourcing our emissions we achieve exactly the same: they lie outside the remit of British climate regulations and are less able to be easily measured or addressed.”

?

“Tax havens are killing polar bears”

How about virtual water too? There’s a nasty trend starting whereby the Haves export their sins and blame the importing countries for polluting by proxy. There must be some externalities here that need to be factored into the prices we pay. Not an easy sell with the predicted ongoing financial problems we face!

@ Gareth

Tax havens are killing polar bears

No they’re not. You are conflating two entirely different things.

The movement of money to tax havens and the movement of industrial production from the UK to lower cost countries are NOT the same thing. They are not even related.

It can be argued that global warming is an externality of carbon emission (though in my view you’d be quite wrong). It can also be argued that large scale cuts in industrial production might reverse the global warming trend and, at some point in the future, save a polar bear from an icy grave (though again I believe you’d be quite wrong).

However if you can show, by even the most outlandish butterfly effect scenario, that tax havens are killing polar bears I will borrow your hair shirt and give myself several lashes with your scourge.

5. Turnedoutnice

Invest in more nuclear power and domestic and commercial fuel cells.]

Sod it. I want a warmer climate – I’m going to start campaigning for higher emissions.

OK, maybe that was slightly overstatement, but this post makes assumptions about truth, proven fact and the best way forward that are quite mindblowing. Perhaps it would be worth showing the case that cutting emissions is the best solution to the problem before jumping on outsourcing of them (and even accepting that global warming might be happening, this case has not been made that I have seen). Especially because if you want to stop developing countries producing emissions, how are you planning on helping allieviate poverty instead?

pagar, just because you’re slow doesn’t mean the article is confused. Consider that?

@6 Watchman

Reasonable as ever. Let’s find another planet identical to Earth and try your experiment. Either that or trust the scientists who’ve studied climate physics.

Please don’t cite any Koch-funded ex-geography teachers as experts either.

9. Planeshift

“a fake charity”

Evidence please.

I’ve read their 2009 accounts at the charity comission. there is no income from any government body.

@ 7

Abusive, sarcastic or silly comments may be deleted.

@ 9

Charity

1. Provision of help or relief to the poor; almsgiving.
2. Something given to help the needy; alms.
3. An institution, organization, or fund established to help the needy.
4. Benevolence or generosity toward others or toward humanity.
5. Indulgence or forbearance in judging others.

Unless you are arguing that people need a think tank or pressure group formed to perpetrate and perpetuate myths about how we should live our lives, this is, indeed, a fake charity.

I agree that the fact it does not rely on public funds is a small blessing.

@4

The ‘?’ in my post was supposed to be a ‘does not equal’ sign but the website obviously didn’t like it.

The article isn’t saying “Tax havens kill polar bears” it’s saying “Outsourcing emissions to foreign countries is a method of bypassing regulation here, just as tax havens are used to bypass our financial regulations.”

12. Luis Enrique

of course it is true that countries will lax environmental legislation are likely to end up specializing in the production of environmentally damaging goods but only if producing things in ways that harm the environment is cheaper than the alternative.

That’s why technology is really the only solution. If it’s cheaper to produce power in the sunny parts of the world using solar farms, it will no longer make sense to “outsource” production to heavy carbon emitters.

there is yet to be a country anywhere in the world that upon discovering deposits of fossil fuels hasn’t popped the champagne corks and started digging. The more well behaved countries use legislation, taxes and other means to try to limit their own carbon emissions, the greater the cost advantage non-cooperating countries will enjoy using fossil fuels. Western countries will achieve a lot more subsidizing sustainable technology in developing countries, to eliminate the cost advantage, than they will trying to use regulations to make water flow uphill. (I once wrote a piece for LC on this, but Sunny didn’t like it).

13. Watchman

Cherub,

Reasonable as ever. Let’s find another planet identical to Earth and try your experiment. Either that or trust the scientists who’ve studied climate physics.

Hmm. Surely those suggesting the hypothesis (that global climate change is being caused by humans) have the obligation to prove it by finding the new Earth. Or at least prove the hyptothesis, rather than assuming it is fact (admittedly that could be difficult in the lack of a suitable alternative Earth – and if we found the alternative Earth the existing residents might object to us playing with their planet anyway…).

And since there is no ‘climate physics’ – there is climatology and physicis, and apparently climate science (presumably a mixture of recognised disciplines – although possibly not statistics…) – we can’t really trust anyone who has studied it, since it doesn’t exist.

Please don’t cite any Koch-funded ex-geography teachers as experts either.

OK – wasn’t planning on it. Not even sure who the hell you are thinking about there (my preferred online sources are an accountant, a meterologist/engineer and an ex-mining engineer, of whom only the last actually does much in the way of scientific research, and of whom none is always right (or claims to be to their credit)). Mind you, if an ex-geography teacher (however funded) comes up with a flaw in a hypothesis, surely the appropriate response is to acknowledge it and deal with it, not attack him or her for their funding or background. Science is open to all you know, not just those in universities. Expertise is all very well, but people can still pick up your mistakes. After all George Osborne is a career politician, so clearly you or me cannot criticise his political decisions because he knows so much more than us…

@Watchman

You can’t prove any theory. You can only disprove a theory. Science advances by disproving existing theories and coming up with new and better ones – that is, theories that better fit the evidence. By setting up impossible standards of evidence – e.g find an earth like planet and conduct an experiment – you are engaging in one the of classic methods of science denialism. There. I’ve said it. you are a denialist.

15. Watchman

Paul,

Thanks for the insult, but it was not me that suggested finding a new earth but Cherub – as my comment about the inhabitants might suggest, I was being tounge in cheek there.

You are technically correct you cannot prove a theory – but you can prove that the challenges to it are not valid, and this has not yet been done by supporters of man-made climate change (who tend to rely on stupid appeals to authority – also a denial of science). Compare this with evolution say, where the theory (and it proudly bears that title note…) is unchallenged scientifically, since no valid objection to the whole process exists (at least none that explains the Duck-billed Platypus 😉 ), but where it is quite normal for the theory to be challenged in some respects and for the challenge to be addressed or accepted (or if the challenge believes the Bible is a reliable scientific source, laughed out of town – St Augustine would not have believed the creationists, for he knew the Bible was allegorical…). Man-made climate change refuses to be presented as a theory, and its proponents seem unwilling to engage with criticisms (and by this I mean they block publication, not that they don’t answer people on the internet), which is rather unscientific.

Watchman @ 15

and its proponents seem unwilling to engage with criticisms (and by this I mean they block publication, not that they don’t answer people on the internet), which is rather unscientific.

Eh? What the fuck is you talking about? What criticisms are you talking about? The so-called ‘criticisms’ have been ripped out of the water by science. You people have been throwing up the same denialist shite for twenty years and having it shot down for every time. The fact is that you and the rest of the anti science Tories are fucking blinded by your own backward ideology to realise it.

The stick out point is that the long-term sustainability of the environment cannot be left to free market capitalism. Anyone who thinks that Cameron, Goldsmith et al are genuine in their belief in ‘Green Conservatism’ is really sticking their collective heads up their collective arses. These people bandy the nametag about, but it is a contradiction in terms because ‘environmentalism’ is about preserving the planet and resources and ‘Conservatism’ is now (since the Nineteen Eighties) about unadulterated greed and to fuck with the consequences.

If Cameron and Goldsmith were even slightly interested in the environment then they would not have joined the modern Tory Party, a more unsavoury group of selfish, greedy, thick bastards you could never hope to meet. The bottom line is when they are (and they will be) forced to choose between the human race and siding with the Tory vermin, they will pick the rest of the Tory Party, because they are not a neat mixture of Green and Blue, these people will always be on the side of the greedy.

However, given that the Tory Party and the Lib Dems have patently shown themselves up as a nice bit of Astroturf, where does that leave the decent people? Labour are no better and no-one else is seriously attempting to address the considerable issues involved in either meeting British CO2 targets, let alone the United Nations’.

Taxation is simply not going to work, even if we could agree it may be moral. It clearly cannot be right to that the rich are allowed to continue to pollute the atmosphere while the poor make do and mend and people are, quite rightly in my opinion in no rush to pay taxes to allow the small elite to continue there lifestyle unabated.

18. Watchman

Jim,

Eh? What the fuck is you talking about? What criticisms are you talking about? The so-called ‘criticisms’ have been ripped out of the water by science. You people have been throwing up the same denialist shite for twenty years and having it shot down for every time. The fact is that you and the rest of the anti science Tories are fucking blinded by your own backward ideology to realise it.

This depends on whether you accept the hockey stick version of the tempratures (ripped apart by professional statisticians in a recent journal) or allow that it is flawed (as pointed out by the sceptics) and that temperature rises are actually not increasing (that is the temperature may still be going up, but the rate is not (actually over the last decade it has decreased, but that is possibly just a fluctuation).

And it also depends on whether you accept the fact that there are plentiful scientists out there (you know, people working on science, with qualifications and everything) who dispute bits of the theory that we are meant to believe is settled. I actually believe the world has been getting warmer, and I’m happy to believe humans contribute to this. I refuse to believe the bullshit that there was no Medieval Warm Period (otherwise I lot of what I studied is rather inexplicable) or Little Ice Age which was originally promoted to make the current warming seem unusual. I am not a denier (unless you are talking the hockey stick here) but I am quite sceptical of a lot of the stuff that has gone on in climate science, where a small clique has effectively controlled the agenda – which is not good science, however accurate their results are (and it should be said the vast majority of climate science is uncontreversial – it is only the extreme interpretations that cause real trouble).

19. Watchman

P.S.

Interesting that I have been called a denier (or my views have been called denialist) twice on this thread, when I have not actually denied that emissions cause global warming – just noted that the theory is not as solid as some people think.

Particularly interesting that Jim also feels capable of making generalisations about ‘Tories’ with no real basis – Zac Goldsmith is hardly not green. I would suggest that this sort of blind belief is more anti-scientific than my worries about proof, but each to their own.

Watchman @ 18, 19

I refuse to believe the bullshit that there was no Medieval Warm Period (otherwise I lot of what I studied is rather inexplicable) or Little Ice Age which was originally promoted to make the current warming seem unusual.

But who has seriously disputed either of these events? And to what ends? I have never heard of either of these two events questioned by anyone promoting the theory of AGW. I am totally unaware the MWP has EVER been questioned and I am at a complete loss as to the point you are trying to make.

I do recall that some halfwit was trying to suggest that the MWP was somehow ‘proof’ that AGW didn’t exist for some reason or other. I think it was something to do with the fact that his tiny little head could not get the idea that there are dozens of factors that can and do affect he planet’s climate and that these were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

(and it should be said the vast majority of climate science is uncontreversial – it is only the extreme interpretations that cause real trouble

Define ‘extreme’ in this context.

Particularly interesting that Jim also feels capable of making generalisations about ‘Tories’ with no real basis – Zac Goldsmith is hardly not green. I would suggest that this sort of blind belief is more anti-scientific than my worries about proof, but each to their own.

If Zac Goldsmith is as green as you imply, then what is he doing in the Tory Party? Look at any website that Tories use and post views on and on any site where people define themselves or can reasonably be defined as Tory. The vast majority of comments regarding Climate Change will be a mixture of denial, apathy and outright hostility. The few people speaking up for for science are slapped down pretty sharpish.

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/parliament/2009/02/roger-helmer-co.html#comments

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/parliament/2008/12/john-bowis-cons.html#comments

And on and on and on…

I have no problem admitting I find some of the general attitude of the rank and file Tories pretty horrible and that does colour my views on the few decent ones I encounter, but Goldsmith MUST see the same posts I see and so will Cameron. How I am I supposed to interpret their vow of silence on this particular issue?

Why has neither taken on the deniers in the Party? Why do the so called ‘vast majority of decent Tories’ speak up and help shoot down the myths that spring up in the media? They know that the vast majority of Tories aree simply not interested in climate change, yet they joined such a Party? Why? Why would any decent person such a motely crew of fuckwits?

Unless oldsmith stands up for the ‘green’ agenda then how can he be considered a green?

21. Charlieman

@OPs: “It works rather nicely for the government and British consumers that for a number of reasons the UK’s high emitting activities have moved abroad: cheaper labour costs; less stringent environmental regulations; the globalisation of markets and the UK’s shift from manufacturing to a service economy.”

This may be new news to the Carbon Trust et al but it is old news. Some of the consequential environmental impacts have even been recognised in international treaties, EU law, UK law. It was understood years ago when nations debated reductions in CO2 emissions, when some developing countries declined to sign up for reductions.

EU/UK companies shift waste recycling to developing countries. A lot of it is simply illegal (fraudulent dumping of waste), some is legally subtle but immoral (transfer of ownership immediately before scrapping) and some of it is legal. And it would be nice if UK environmentalists acknowledged UK expertise at cleaning up toxic waste, without killing ourselves or our nature.

The notable thing about mistreatment of toxic waste is that you don’t have to wait long to determine whether it is killing the local population. Epidemiologists have sufficient data from the industrial west to know which waste products are killing people.

Western environmentalists obsess about CO2 emissions. What about the other problems that affect non-developed or developing nations? Stuff that shortens lives now.

22. Richard W

There is no good reason that I can think of why a consumer of a good is anymore responsible for the emissions embedded in producing the good than the producers. It is after all a two way transaction. In fact, we are told that we are responsible for historical emissions when we had a large share of producing goods for the rest of the world. So, we were then guilty as producers. Now we are told as consumers of manufactured goods from other countries that we are guilty of emissions as consumers. Strange how the blame switched from producers to consumers. The truth is goods have embedded emissions and the blame game is not very productive. Designing sensible policies to help reduce emissions makes more sense than meaningless slogans like outsourcing emissions.

Of course, we can regard those in the third world as responsible adults. They are free to refuse to accept those industries which create carbon emissions. Or are they simply passive victims, as opposed to people making rational choices?

Meanwhile, the most important step of all, which has been the most important step for several decades, is to take steps to reduce the output of new human carbon emitters. 80 million are added to the human population every year, I believe.

http://populationmatters.org/


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Tim

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  3. Jackie Wright

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  4. News Unspun

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  5. peter fainton

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  6. Sandy Nicholson

    The government won't reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://bit.ly/ieqAkG

  7. Watching You

    The government won't reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://bit.ly/ieqAkG

  8. jeremy smith

    RT @libcon: The government won't reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://bit.ly/ieqAkG

  9. Big Picture Review

    RT @libcon: The government won't reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://bit.ly/ieqAkG

  10. Pucci Dellanno

    The government won't reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://bit.ly/ieqAkG

  11. Tim Holmes

    The government won’t reduce emissions, it will just outsource them http://t.co/lDTNr1c via @libcon





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