Report reveals Britain's hidden CO2 emissions
Britain is responsible for hundreds of millions more tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions than official figures admit, according to a new report that undermines UK claims to lead the world on action against global warming.
The analysis says pollution from aviation, shipping, overseas trade and tourism, which are not measured in the official figures, means that UK carbon consumption has risen significantly over the past decade, and that the government's claims to have tackled global warming are an "illusion".
The report, from a team of economists led by Dieter Helm at Oxford University, could prove embarrassing for British negotiators at the UN climate summit in Bali, where they are trying to persuade countries including the US and China to agree a new worldwide treaty to limit the effects of global warming.
Britain is seen as a main player as the talks enter their second week, partly because it is one of few countries on track to reduce its emissions as required under the Kyoto protocol, the existing global plan to curb carbon emissions.
Ministers are due to arrive for the high-level segment of the talks on Wednesday. By Friday, they aim to agree a road map and timetable for a treaty to succeed Kyoto in 2012.
Under Kyoto, Britain must reduce its greenhouse gas output to 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2012. According to official figures filed with the UN, Britain's emissions are currently down 15% compared with 1990.
But the new report says UK carbon output has actually risen by 19% over that period, once the missing emissions are included in the figures.
The new analysis measures the UK's consumption of carbon, rather than production. It includes energy consumed to make products and ship them to the UK from countries such as China, as well as the carbon footprint of British citizens abroad.
Helm, who is a government adviser, says: "The implications for the UK are stark: the UK has not yet, as ministers repeatedly claim, emphatically broken the link between economic growth and emissions. To reduce carbon consumption in the UK would demand much more radical policies. Excluding carbon imports and excluding aviation provides an artificial picture. We have to take responsibility for the carbon we consume."
The new figures, which are approximate and need more research, threaten the government's pledge to reduce emissions by 60% by 2050, he said.
"This puts us in a completely different starting position. We need to move on from all the self-congratulations over [meeting the target set by] Kyoto and look at the real effect of policies."
The report says that Britain's success in meeting its Kyoto target is not related to climate policies, but the result of a major shift from coal to cleaner gas for power generation during the 1990s, and the closure of much of the country's heavy industry.
The report says the resulting drop in carbon pollution "gives the impression that the UK is winning the fight against climate change and it leads people to think that the UK is reducing its dependence on greenhouse gas emissions".
In fact, it says, "the economy's demand for greenhouse gases may have been growing".
The new figures come as John Hutton, the business secretary, is set to announce plans for a massive expansion in offshore wind power, which would mean every household in Britain could be powered by offshore wind farms.
Up to 7,000 huge turbines could be installed around the UK's coastline in a bid to boost the electricity generated by wind power from 2 gigawatts to 33 gigawatts by 2020.
Hutton will tell an energy conference in Berlin today: "This potential major expansion will be subject to the outcome of a strategic environmental assessment. But if we could manage to achieve this, by 2020 enough electricity could be generated off our shores to power the equivalent of all of the UK's homes. This could be a major contribution towards meeting the EU's target of 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
"The challenge for government and for industry is to turn this potential, for our energy and economy, into a cost-effective reality. This will be a major challenge."
A Friends of the Earth renewable energy campaigner, Nick Rau, said the news was "extremely welcome".
"The potential power that could be generated by this industry is enormous. Making Britain a world leader in this form of energy will create jobs, boost the economy and help put Britain at the forefront in the battle to combat climate change.
"Ministers must also develop forward-thinking strategies for cutting energy waste and developing other forms of renewable power."
Rau added: "The government should also abandon dangerous plans to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors."
A letter in today's Guardian signed by the chief executives of 13 European car manufacturers welcomes the Bali summit and calls on those present to "embrace sound and holistic measures to follow on from the Kyoto agreement". By David Adam Guardian website.