Reconsidering the calculation and role of environmental footprints

De Fence, Janine and Jensen, Christa and McIntyre, Stuart and Munday, Max and Turner, Karen (2011) Reconsidering the calculation and role of environmental footprints. Fraser of Allander Economic Commentary, Special E (1). pp. 21-26. ISSN 2046-5378

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Following the recent Copenhagen Climate Change conference, there has been discussion of the methods and underlying principles that inform climate change targets. Climate change targets following the Kyoto Protocol are broadly based on a production accounting principle (PAP). This approach focuses on emissions produced within given geographical boundaries. An alternative approach is a consumption accounting principle (CAP), where the focus is on emissions produced globally to meet consumption demand within the national (or regional) economy1. Increasingly popular environmental footprint measures, including ecological and carbon footprints, attempt to measure environmental impacts based on CAP methods. The perception that human consumption decisions lie at the heart of the climate change problem is the impetus driving pressure on policymakers for a more widespread use of CAP measures. At a global level of course, emissions accounted for under the production and consumption accounting principles would be equal. It is international trade that leads to differences in emissions under the two principles. This paper, the second in this special issue of the Fraser Commentary, examines how input-output accounting techniques may be applied to examine pollution generation under both of these accounting principles, focussing on waste and carbon generation in the Welsh economy as a case study. However, we take a different focus, arguing that the ‘domestic technology assumption’, taken as something of a mid-point in moving between production and consumption accounting in the first paper, may actually constitute a more useful focus for regional policymakers than full footprint analyses.