The UK’s current emissions are only a small part of the global total, but developing countries look to developed countries to take the lead. The UK’s past emissions have helped to put us in the mess we are in today and much of China’s current emissions arise from producing goods for people like us to buy. The UK can also provide advanced technology to help developing countries reduce their emissions.

It is true that today the UK emits only 1.75% of all the carbon dioxide currently produced by humanity however today’s global warming is actually being caused by the total amount of carbon dioxide that has been emitted in the last few hundred years. It has been estimated that the UK has emitted more carbon dioxide per person since 1750 than any other country because the global industrial revolution started in Britain. Thus it is clear that the UK has a moral responsibility to play its full part in reducing global emissions.

On average in 2008, a UK person emitted six times as much carbon dioxide as someone in India and 1.6 times as much as someone in China. However, these figures give a misleading impression of the actual contribution of the average UK person. This is because they refer to emissions at the point of production of goods and services. Increasingly, consumer goods purchased in the UK are manufactured abroad, particularly in South-east Asian countries such as China. In this way, UK emissions are effectively increasingly being ‘outsourced’ to countries such as China. UK emissions measured at the point of production, which are the figures usually published, were over 10% lower in 2008 than in 1990 largely as a result of this increasing effect. However, UK emissions measured at the point of consumption, thereby including emissions associated with producing goods and services elsewhere which are actually consumed by people in the UK, rose by 20% over the same period. 

As consumers, we can demand lower carbon goods and services which will encourage businesses, wherever they are based, to reduce the environmental impact of their products.

There are opportunities for the developed world to assist developing countries in cutting back their emissions by introducing suitable technology. If developing countries can be helped to improve their standard of living and invest in education, particularly of females, this will help to reduce their higher birth rates, population growth, and demand for energy and other resources. Thus World Development and climate change must be tackled together.

By providing leadership, the UK and other developed countries potentially can have a major influence on reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases.