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National greenhouse-gas accounting for effective climate policy on international trade


National greenhouse-gas accounting should reflect how countries’ policies and behaviours affect global emissions. Actions that contribute to reduced global emissions should be credited, and actions that increase them should be penalized. This is essential if accounting is to serve as accurate guidance for climate policy. Yet this principle is not satisfied by the two most common accounting methods. Production-based accounting used under the Kyoto Protocol does not account for carbon leakage—the phenomenon of countries reducing their domestic emissions by shifting carbon-intensive production abroad1. Consumption-based accounting2,3 (also called carbon footprinting) does not credit countries for cleaning up their export industries, and it also punishes some types of trade that could contribute to more carbon efficient production worldwide. We propose an improvement to consumption-based carbon accounting that takes technology differences in export sectors into account and thereby tends to more correctly reflect how national policy changes affect total global emissions. We also present empirical results showing how this new measure redraws the global emissions map.

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Figure 1: TCBA of the EU27, China and Brazil compared with PBA and CBA.
Figure 2: Change from territorial to CBA and TCBA accounting for 2009.
Figure 3: World map of per-capita emissions responsibility using TCBA.
Figure 4: Emissions responsibilities change considerably between PBA, CBA and TCBA.

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This research has been supported by the Swedish Energy Agency and Handelsbankens forskningsstiftelser.

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A.K., M.J. and D.D.M. designed the methodology and T.O.W. contributed to background and analysis. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Astrid Kander.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kander, A., Jiborn, M., Moran, D. et al. National greenhouse-gas accounting for effective climate policy on international trade. Nature Clim Change 5, 431–435 (2015).

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