The UK’s Emissions and Employment Footprints: Exploring the Trade-Offs

Marco Sakai, Anne Owen and John Barrett from CIEMAP published a study on the trade-offs between the UK’s emissions and labour footprints. Their findings indicate that the UK generates an annual average of 25 million jobs worldwide via international trade, along with 525 Mt of CO2 on average per year, around half of its emissions footprint. This has important policy implications, since reducing UK imports can contribute to generate less emissions abroad, but this could also affect development overseas by limiting the amount of jobs in export sectors of UK trade partners. The findings also have implications for UK trade after Brexit.


During the last decades, the UK economy has increasingly relied on foreign markets to fulfil its material needs, becoming a net importer of both emissions and employment. While the emissions footprint reflects the pressure that consumption exerts on the planet’s climate, the labour footprint represents the employment that is created across the globe associated with the demand for products and services. This paper has a two-fold objective. First, it focuses on analysing the behaviour over time, drivers, and sectoral and regional composition of both UK’s footprints. Second, it explores the relationship between both measures by estimating the elasticity between the growth of emissions and employment embodied in imports. The results show that around half of the emissions associated with UK consumption were generated outside its borders, while only 40% of total employment was domestic. This has important policy implications. Reducing UK’s imports can contribute to cut both its footprints, generating less emissions abroad and more employment opportunities within. However, cutting imports is challenging, since this would require a lengthy and difficult process of structural transformation. The UK could contribute to curb emissions outside its borders, while safeguarding development overseas, by offering increased support to emission-intensive trade partners in the form of technology transfer and financial aid.

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