Berlin: Restricting world trade through policies such as CO2 tariffs, is not likely to lower global emissions significantly, warns a new report.
Actually, steadily growing world trade leads to a substantial transfer of CO2 from one country to another. The traded goods effectively contain the greenhouse gas, as it originates from the energy used during their production.
"Typically, in the West we import goods whose production causes a lot of greenhouse gas emissions in poorer countries - and it is a contested question to which countries these emissions should be attributed," explains study co-author Michael Jakob from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.
This is a delicate issue, because many Western countries have ambitious targets for emissions reductions. Simply transferring emission-intensive industries to third countries in order to achieve these goals would not serve climate protection - and might even damage the economy, according to a PIK statement.
"For the first time, we have now broken down the known emission transfers into their components," Jakob says. The economic analysis is based on an evaluation of estimates that were determined by other researchers in earlier studies.
"We can show that of the CO2 flowing into the US in the form of imported goods, almost 50 per cent are due to the American trade deficit alone," Jakob explains.
The US emits less CO2 in the production of its exports than is contained in its imports, simply because it imports more than it exports.
"And only about 20 percent of CO2 transfers from China into the US can be traced back to the fact that China is in effect relatively more specialized in the production of dirty goods," Jakob says.
If China with its fossil energy mix had to produce more energy-intensive goods itself instead of importing them, emissions would increase. "In the end, interventions in world trade could do more harm than good," says co-author Robert Marschinski from PIK and Technische Universidad Berlin.