This paper presents a socio-economically disaggregated framework for attributing CO 2 emissions to people's high level functional needs. Based around a quasi-multi-regional input–output (QMRIO) model, the study, in theory, takes into account all CO 2 emissions that arise from energy used in production of goods and services to satisfy UK household demand, whether the emissions occur in the UK or abroad. Results show that CO 2 emissions attributable to households were 15% above 1990 levels in 2004, and that although absolute decoupling occurred between household expenditure and CO 2 during the UK's switch from coal to gas in the early 1990s, since then only slight relative decoupling is evident. The proportion of CO 2 that arises outside UK borders in support of UK consumption is rising, and reducing these emissions is particularly problematic in a global trading system. Investigation into the carbon footprint of different segments of the UK population shows wide variation: the segment with the highest carbon footprint emits 64% more CO 2 than the segment with the lowest. Results show that recreation and leisure are responsible for over one quarter of CO 2 emissions in a typical UK household in 2004. We conclude that expanding lifestyle aspirations are significant factors in driving household CO 2 emissions, but the study also emphasizes that attention must be paid to the infrastructures and institutions that result in considerable amounts of CO 2 being locked up in basic household activities through which people meet their everyday needs for subsistence, protection, and communication with family and friends. The findings highlight the sheer scale of the challenge facing UK policy-makers, and suggest that policies should be targeted towards segments of society responsible for the highest carbon footprints.
Ecological Economics – Elsevier
Published: May 15, 2009
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