Leading article: The figures do not add up

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The Independent Online

It is little wonder that the Government sought to bury the latest report it had commissioned from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) since the document contains some rather inconvenient truths about the UK's performance in reducing carbon dioxide emissions over recent years. The report argues that our national emissions, far from falling since the 1990s, as ministers often claim, have actually been increasing.

The SEI identifies a serious problem with the way emission outputs are calculated. Emissions from our aviation and shipping industries, which have been growing rapidly in the past two decades, are excluded. More significantly still, the figures do not take into account the carbon emissions produced in the manufacture of the goods we import. While our domestic manufacturing industry has declined, our appetite for manufactured goods from abroad has risen exponentially. One might say that we have merely succeeded in outsourcing our emissions to the developing world. The bottom line is that we in Britain, in common with the rest of the developed world, have increasingly carbon-heavy lifestyles, no matter what the official figures say.

In one sense, it is unfair to accuse ministers of trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. They are, after all, using internationally agreed methods of measuring national emissions. But these findings do re-emphasise the need for our political leaders to respond to the threat of climate change on an international level, through a binding global agreement on cutting emissions and transferring green technology. National targets are important, but, in our globalised economy, the need to work in concert with other nations is the key.

The SEI report ought to have another political consequence. These calculations undercut the ground from the argument that it is reasonable for the developed world to demand reciprocal pledges from the developing world on emission cuts before signing up to a successor to Kyoto. On the contrary, it is morally incumbent on the West, which, as we now clearly see, remains the main driver of emissions growth, to take a lead.

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