Inventory Case 3: DEFRA (United Kingdom's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Responsible Party: 
Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Sydney, under contract to DEFRA
Country Involved: 
United Kingdom
Case Study Type: 
Inventory Case

DEFRA (United Kingdom's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

  1. Who did it: Stockholm Environment Institute and the University of Sydney, under contract to DEFRA
  2. What they did (and when): Development of an embedded carbon emissions indicator, published June 2008. The researchers estimated consumption-based emissions for the UK for all years from 1992 - 2004. The consumption-based emissions are then compared against production-based emissions and emissions as reported under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Report can be downloaded here
  3. Why they did it: According to DEFRA's web site, "The aim of the proposed project work is to develop a time series of input-output tables for the UK by using an automated data optimization procedure that allows the construction of national input-output and environmental databases in greatest possible sector disaggregate that can be used for a multi-region environmental input-output model in the future. Thus the work will set the basis for a UK++ MRIO model , enabling future multi-regional analysis of environmental impacts associated with UK trade flows, including the provision of a robust indicator for embedded emissions." This research into the carbon impacts of trade and consumption was a foundational element of DEFRA's work in the field of Sustainable Production and Consumption. According to DEFRA's website: "The concept of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) covers all the lifecycle environmental impacts of goods and services, from impacts associated with resource extraction through to final disposal. The SCP challenge is therefore extremely broad, but the central theme is simple: more efficient use of resources in production and consumption, in order to reduce or avoid the associated lifecycle impacts. Today’s environmental problems e.g. resource depletion, climate change, pollution, waste and biodiversity loss can all be traced to the products and services we produce and consume. All of the UK economy’s environmental impacts are in some way linked to the lifecycle phases of products and services across the supply chain, and impacts may arise in the UK or abroad. DEFRA is developing a shared SCP evidence base. Our intention is that the evidence base should be valued and used not only by DEFRA and DBERR, but also by others inside and outside government. In order to inform UK SCP policy the evidence generation program encompassing a diverse range of R&D projects is in place. This evidence is designed to inform effective policy decisions."
  4. Results/outcomes/successes/failures/lessons learned: The report illustrates that while the UK's emissions as reported using a traditional inventory fell 5% between 1992 and 2004, emissions resulting from consumption activities in the UK rose 18% during the same time period. Reasons for the rise include a) increase in overall consumption of materials; b) more materials being produced by countries with more carbon-intensive production (such as dirtier fuel mixes). While the results shouldn't be over generalized to the US, the general trend here (increasing consumption-based emissions during the same time period) probably holds true, and the UK example provides a powerful illustration of the importance of viewing emissions from more than one frame of reference.