Would we accept this thinking from a child about dropping litter? The UK is hosting the COP26 international climate talks this November. How can we expect China to listen to us about its coal power stations if our house is far from in order? The UK’s climate policies are rated as insufficient and ‘consistent with up to 3°C of warming’ and the government’s independent advisor says the UK is way off track

The UK’s territorial emissions may only be around 1% of total global emissions, but that still puts us near the top: 17th out of 195 countries. And if we account for our cumulative historic emissions, we are in 5th place thanks to leading the world into the industrial revolution.

It’s important to acknowledge that China’s emissions are high because they are making our stuff after we moved so much manufacturing overseas. The CEE Bill would require that we account for emissions on a ‘consumption basis’, including those caused by producing and shipping the products we import. The great news is that this is likely to lead to policies like the EU’s recently proposed carbon border tax, giving British companies producing lower carbon products here in the UK an advantage, helping bring back manufacturing and jobs. This will also take the pressure off China to build coal power stations.

We still have the opportunity to lead by example, showing the world a path out of this crisis - but the window for acting is fast closing.

Answer

The UK is the 17th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world (of 195 countries), so we aren't insignificant at all. We are a major developed country and hence a high emitter. When you look at emissions per person, we're even nearer the top at 8th in the world as the graph below shows. And if you account for cumulative emissions from the start of the industrial revolution, we are in 5th place: don't forget, most of the greenhouse gases emitted since then are still in the atmosphere, or, just as bad, dissolved into the oceans, raising acidity.

These rankings are based on territorial emissions - occurring within our national borders. But many of our companies have outsourced their manufacturing to countries like China over recent decades. When we order those products imported from abroad, the resulting manufacturing emissions are due to our consumption decisions. The goods would not have been produced were it not for our demand. It's only fair then to add these emissions to our account.. Imports, along with international aviation and shipping, are currently not addressed by the UK’s emissions reduction plans - despite being estimated by the WWF at as much as 46% of our carbon footprint.

The Bill requires the immediate addition of imports, aviation and shipping, to give a full picture of our global carbon footprint. 

In Nov 2021, the UK is hosting the COP26 international climate conference. The world's spotlight will be on the UK in its role as conference president, with an opportunity for our country to really make an impact on the world stage post-Brexit. Leading by example is the best way to get results. But if we continue to preach to other countries when it is clear our own house is far from in order, we are inviting failure at COP26.