Global trade may double emissions

Published Jun 05, 2007

Increased global trade has changed the preconditions for recording and declaring carbon dioxide emissions. A KTH study shows that if Swedish data only is used, emissions may be vastly underestimated – four different calculation methods were compared in this report. Using one method Sweden’s annual emissions amount to 109 million tons – twice as much as figures currently reported.

The estimated emission figures vary considerably depending on the method and measurements used. One decisive factor is how the import of goods and services is included in the equation. With increased global trade there are good reasons to map how emissions due to imports are distributed around the world, instead of merely examining national emissions.

“Increased global commerce means that we have less insight into, and control of, the environmental impact that may occur as a result of the production that our consumption depends on. When oil is drilled in order to export it to Sweden, or when cotton is grown, harvested, spun, woven and dyed in order to become clothes that are sold to us, the environment is impacted in many different places around the world. As consumers today we know practically nothing of this,” says Annika Carlsson–Kanyama, researcher at KTH who led this study.

The four methods that were compared produced the figures 57, 61, 68 and 109 million tons of carbon dioxide in one year as Sweden’s share. Researchers have utilised existing statistics on import and consumption in Sweden and have then, with the assistance of various sources of data on emissions from production in different countries, calculated the size of carbon dioxide emissions all over the world generated by Sweden’s imports.

This calculation method, that includes examining the country of dispatch of imports and not the country where production is carried out, means that emissions from certain countries outside the EU have been underestimated. Emissions have been overestimated, on the other hand, for EU countries, Australia and North African countries.

The study, commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, has been implemented by the Department of Industrial Ecology at KTH in collaboration with Statistics Sweden and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

Magnus Myrén

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Last changed: Jun 05, 2007