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14/11/2017 - 11:00

The first analysis of the Icelandic consumption-based carbon footprint


A new study conducted by Jukka Heinone, professor at the University of Iceland's Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering shows that the consumption-based carbon footprint in Icelandic homes is similar to those in the European Union, despite Iceland's unique position in energy affairs. Around 71% of household emissions in the world were attributed to imported goods, and the burden of emissions is highest in the developing countries.  

An increasing proportion of goods are not manufactured where they are used. As the bulk of the environmental impact of produced products is caused in production the nations that import the good cause environmental impact outside their borders. It is thus safe to say that much of the environmental impact in the developing countries is outsourced by richer nations. Despite this, most international contracts focus on environmental sustainability, including the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. on reducing pollution and emissions within the borders of each nation.

Few studies have been made to research the environmental impact of individual countries outside their borders; hence the research of Jukka Heinonen and collaborators. Jukka's team includes Juudit Ottelin, who completed a joint doctoral degree from the University of Iceland and Aalto Universtiy in Finland last year, and Jack Clarke, who completed a Master's degree in environment and natural resources from the University of Iceland this spring.  

They published their results in the Journal of Cleaner Production recently. In the article they point out that great emphasis has been placed on minimization of carbon emissions due to production of electricity. Studies have suggested, however, that this narrow policy focus is insufficient to achieve meaningful results. 

The research analysis focuses on Iceland, where a considerable part of the emission stems from transport and imported products often only revealed to a small extent in local emission measures. This results in high greenhouse gas emissions per capita in spite of the nation's domestic energy supply. The result is a low carbon illusion in which rich economies believe they are reducing their GHG responsibility whilst global emissions continue to grow. 

Emissions from transport, food and goods were dominant.

As stated above this is the first consumption-based study on the Icelandic carbon footprint, but 99% of residential heating and electricity in Iceland was supplied by renewable energy. The study combines Icelandic household expenditure data with the so-called Eora database (Multi-Regional Input-Output database Eora) to calculate the consumption-based carbon footprint (CBCF). The average annual CBCF of Icelandic households was 10.4 tCO2eq/capita, similar in magnitude to other EU nations despite Iceland's unique energy supply.  GHG emissions from transport, food and goods dominated the household CBCF.   

The Icelandic CBCF was higher than in most European nations. The Icelandic footprint is 55% higher than the territorial emissions inventory indicate, but the government has looked to such monitoring when aiming to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 40% by the year 2030.

The study shows, furthermore, that approximately 71% of household emissions were attributed to imported goods, which were mapped globally revealing that the GHG emissions burden of Icelandic consumption falls primarily on developing nations.  

Jukka et al point out that the findings suggest that a broader GHG accounting framework and resulting policy focus is required, both in Iceland and globally, that incorporates both supply and demand-based GHG reduction strategies. The study can be used in the future for well-to-do nations who work towards the reduction of emissions. 

The article in Journal of Cleaner Production.

Jukka Heinonen