When counting our carbon emissions, groups like ours have long argued that we should also look at what is embedded in everything we buy. This would mean that a lot of the emissions of China and India would not just be seen as their problem, but ours, too.

Now DEFRA has commissioned research that shows exactly how much our “outsourced” emissions add to our carbon footprint – they nearly double it! This is awful news for the planet, as politicians have been long trying to claim they are making progress in cutting emissions when pushed by groups such as ours. Carbon Brief shows that “the UK’s 2009 carbon footprint was 20 per cent greater than it was in 1990, with a huge doubling in CO2 emissions related to imports.” yet the Climate Change Act sets a legal responsibility for an 80% reduction by 2050.


Birmingham must be one of the places where our direct carbon footprint has reduced most due to the outsourcing of production (or  the decline of local manufacturing), but if we are to deal with climate change, that does nothing to help the situation globally.

In terms of carbon, it makes sense to manufacture everything as close to where it will be used as possible with the smallest amount of resource use possible. When we do Buy Nothing Day our message is about over consumption, but we also talk about shopping local, buying ethically and sustainably produced items rather than just going for the mass-produced, non-repairable offshored options.


Will this new way of measuring emissions lead to more honesty in international negotiations about the steps being taken to deal with carbon emissions? It’s far too early to tell, but it could be a step in the right direction when we can see how linked everyone’s emissions are in this globalised world.

It should also give Birmingham some food for thought about how we can re-localise and ensure a thriving manufacturing sector for a sustainable, low carbon economy here.