Carbon emissions from goods imported and consumed in the UK are rising more quickly than greenhouse gases are being cut domestically, MPs warned today.
The Energy and Climate Change Committee warned that "outsourcing" of pollution to other countries meant the UK's record on cutting greenhouse gases was not as good as official figures suggested, and called on the Government to be open about the issue.
The committee said most emissions reductions since 1990 were the result of switching from coal to gas for electricity generation and manufacturing moving abroad to places such as China where goods are made for western markets - and not policies to tackle climate change.
A report by the committee warned that while the carbon dioxide emissions generated at home fell by 19% between 1990 and 2008, according to official figures, other Government research shows the UK's "carbon footprint" associated with what the country consumes grew by 20%.
The MPs also said they had seen no evidence that investment decisions by industries that are big electricity users were being influenced by climate policies - which some have claimed will push heavy industry abroad.
The committee said compensation for electricity-intensive industry promised by the Government for the cost of electricity - which is largely driven by fossil fuel price volatility, not green policies - was unnecessary.
If the Government goes ahead with compensation, industry must offer clear commitments to improve energy efficiency, the MPs demanded.
Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: "Successive governments have claimed to be cutting climate-changing emissions, but in fact a lot of pollution has simply been outsourced overseas.
"The Department for Energy and Climate Change likes to argue that the UK is only responsible for 2% of the world's CO2 emissions, but the Government's own research shows this not to be the case.
"We get through more consumer goods than ever before in the UK and this is pushing up emissions in manufacturing countries like China."
The committee called on the Government to ensure it looked at consumption-based emissions in designing policies to tackle climate change, as well as data on greenhouse gases generated within the UK.
And ministers should take a more "honest approach" to Britain's overall impact on the climate in international negotiations on cutting global emissions, Mr Yeo said.
"The UK can scarcely lecture countries like China for failing to sign up to binding emissions cuts when much of their pollution is produced making products for us and other high-consumption economies."
He said that consumption emissions should not form the basis of a new global treaty, but being straight about the UK's contribution to rising CO2 levels could help break the stalemate which countries have been locked into in recent years.
The MPs urged the Government to call on its independent climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, to look at how the UK could count emissions from imported goods in its policies.
Mr Yeo also said better information on the emissions "embedded" in the manufacture of products could help consumers and businesses reduce their own carbon footprints.
WWF-UK's head of climate change Keith Allott said: "However you measure the UK's emissions, it's clear that a lot more needs to be done to reduce them - through improving energy efficiency and decarbonising the power sector through renewables, and also by reducing and managing our consumption.
"Addressing consumption is the nettle that successive governments, worried about how voters will react, have refused to grasp.
"The evidence suggests, however, that consumption-based emissions reporting can be used to engage people, to change behaviour, and to help people make better decisions about how we consume."
"One of the main reasons why nations such as China have soaring carbon emissions is because they are making goods to sell to rich Western countries - this report highlights the UK's role in creating this pollution.
"The Government can't continue to turn a blind eye to the damaging impact that our hunger for overseas products has on our climate - we need to tackle the problem, not shift it abroad.
"Ministers must come up with a strategy to ensure we cut all the emissions pumped out on our behalf, beginning with a requirement on firms to reveal the real climate impact of all their products.
"Far more must also be done to reduce the damage our purchasing choices have on all the planet's precious resources, such as forests and water - the impact of UK consumption goes far wider than just climate change."
A DECC spokesman said: "We account for our emissions according to international rules that are followed by all countries that are signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, and that are the basis for international negotiations on climate change.
"While embedded emissions can provide useful insights into how to decarbonise, such figures are difficult to calculate accurately, uncertain and not easily verified.
"It would therefore be difficult to negotiate a global emission reduction treaty on this basis, and an attempt could delay for decades an effective solution to the problem of climate change.
"Ultimately, the best way to reduce the UK's consumption emissions is to persuade all countries to manage down their territorial emissions through a global deal on climate change."
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