Consumption-based carbon accounting: does it have a future?

Marco Sakai, Kate Scott, and John Barrett have published a new paper in WIREs Climate change. Read the full article here.

The authors review the future of consumption-based (BC) carbon accounting, which attributes responsibility for emissions on the basis of consumption instead of production. The article provides an account of the benefits for international climate policy derived from adopting such an approach. It also discusses the counterarguments and presents the spectrum of implementation possibilities, ranging from the status quo to more transformative options. Finally, it looks at how CB accounting may be adjusted to fit with current political realities and identifies policy mechanisms that could potentially be used to address CB emissions.


Internationally, allocation of responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is currently based on the production-based (PB) accounting method, which measures emissions generated in the place where goods and services are produced. However, the growth of emissions embodied in trade has raised the question whether we should switch to, or amalgamate PB accounting, with other accounting approaches. Consumption-based (CB) accounting has so far emerged as the most prominent alternative. This approach accounts for emissions at the point of consumption, attributing all the emissions that occurred in the course of production and distribution to the final consumers of goods and services. This review has a fourfold objective. First, it provides an account of the logic behind attributing responsibility for emissions on the basis of consumption instead of production. Issues of equity and justice, increased emissions coverage, encouragement of cleaner production practices, and political benefits are considered. Second, it discusses the counterarguments, focusing in particular on issues of technical complexity, mitigation effectiveness, and political acceptability. Third, it presents the spectrum of implementation possibilities—ranging from the status quo to more transformative options—and considers the implications for international climate policy that would accrue under various scenarios of adopting CB accounting in practice. Fourth, it looks at how CB accounting may be adjusted to fit with current political realities and it identifies policy mechanisms that could potentially be utilized to directly or indirectly address CB emissions. Such an approach could unlock new opportunities for climate policy innovation and for climate mitigation.

For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Scenario analysis of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in UK construction

Jannik Giesekam and John Barrett have published a new article: ‘Scenario analysis of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in UK construction’ in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers – Engineering Sustainability. Read the full article for free here.


Motivated by national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions budgets, the UK construction industry is pursuing reductions in emissions embodied in buildings and infrastructure. The current embodied GHG emissions benchmarks allow design teams to make a relative comparison between buildings and infrastructure but are not linked to sector or national GHG emissions reduction targets. This paper describes a novel model that links sector-level embodied GHG emissions estimates with project calculations. This provides a framework to consistently translate international, national and sector reduction targets into project targets. The required level of long-term GHG emissions reduction from improvements in building design and material manufacture is heavily dependent on external factors that the industry does not control, such as demand for new stock and the rate of electrical grid ‘decarbonisation’. A scenario analysis using the model suggests that, even if external factors progress along the better end of UK government projections, current practices will be insufficient to meet sector targets.

After Paris, UK’s latest ‘carbon budget’ just isn’t ambitious enough


Kate Scott and Marco Sakai have published an article in The Conversation that interrogates the UK’s latest carbon budget. Read the full article here.

After Paris, UK’s latest ‘carbon budget’ just isn’t ambitious enough

A major new climate policy was announced by the UK government on June 30, almost unnoticed in the Brexit aftermath. The media’s focus on Westminster backstabbing meant the country’s latest “carbon budget”, widely heralded as unambiguously good news for the environment, hasn’t had the scrutiny it deserves.

The “Fifth Carbon Budget” effectively commits the UK to reducing emissions by 57% from 1990 levels by sometime between 2028 and 2032. These budgets serve as five-year “stepping stones” towards achieving an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 – the ultimate aim of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Budgets are determined years in advance to enable the required policy planning.

A 57% cut sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that the Paris climate agreement hugely increased levels of ambition. This budget no longer ensures the UK is doing its fair share globally to prevent dangerous climate change.

Adapting Darnton’s Nine Principles framework for scaling up individual upcycling

Kyungeun Sung and Tim Cooper presented a new paper at the 2016 Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference in Brighton in June 2016.


Read the paper here: An alternative approach to influencing behaviour

Abstract: Behaviour change or influencing behaviour has recently been recognised as a new role of design by design academics and practitioners. Some approaches have been explored in past research, yet most focused on behaviour intervention generation as a form of product design or communication design. In the meantime, increasing interest in design as a way of thinking and as an effective tool for policy and service innovation in the public sector calls for wide-ranging approaches for design and policy interventions. This paper therefore suggests an alternative approach as a response to such calls. Darnton’s Nine Principles framework is critically reviewed as an overarching framework, and adapting this framework, the early stages of behaviour intervention are proposed. The application of the alternative approach to influencing behaviour is demonstrated by giving an example of scaling up individual upcycling. The paper concludes by discussing the value and usefulness of the suggested approach.

Industrial Energy Use and Carbon Emissions Reduction: A UK Perspective

Geoff Hammond and Jonathan Norman have published a new paper in WIREs Energy and Environment. Read the full paper here: Industrial energy use and carbon emissions reduction


Progress in reducing industrial energy demand and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is evaluated with a focus is on the situation in the United Kingdom (UK), although the lessons learned are applicable across much of the industrialized world. The UK industrial sector is complex, because it may be viewed as consisting of some 350 separate combinations of subsectors, devices and technologies.
Various energy analysis and carbon accounting techniques applicable to industry are described and assessed. The contributions of the energy-intensive (EI) and nonenergy-intensive (NEI) industrial subsectors over recent decades are evaluated with the aid of decomposition analysis. An observed drop in aggregate energy intensity over this timescale was driven by different effects: energy efficiency improvements; structural change; and fuel switching. Finally, detailed case studies drawn from the Cement subsector and that associated with Food and Drink are examined; representing the EI and NEI subsectors, respectively.
Currently available technologies will lead to further, short-term energy and CO2 emissions savings in manufacturing, but the prospects for the commercial exploitation of innovative technologies by mid-21st century are far more speculative. There are a number of nontechnological barriers to the take-up of such technologies going forward. Consequently, the transition pathways to a low carbon future in UK industry by 2050 will exhibit large uncertainties. The attainment of significant falls in carbon emissions over this period depends critically on the adoption of a limited number of key technologies [e.g., carbon capture and storage (CCS), energy efficiency techniques, and bioenergy], alongside a decarbonization of the electricity supply.

Individual upcycling in the UK: Insights for scaling up towards sustainable development

Kyungeun Sung presented her paper in the Symposium on Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the UK (Manchester) on 6th of April. The paper will be published as a book chapter in W. Filho (Eds), Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the United Kingdom, London: Springer, by end of this year.

See the presentation file here:

Bridging the gap between energy and the environment

Kate Scott has published a new article on ‘Bridging the gap between energy and the environment’ in Energy Policy.

Read the full article here.


Meeting the world’s energy demand is a major challenge for society over the coming century. To identify the most sustainable energy pathways to meet this demand, analysis of energy systems on which policy is based must move beyond the current primary focus on carbon to include a broad range of ecosystem services on which human well-being depends. Incorporation of a broad set of ecosystem services into the design of energy policy will differentiates between energy technology options to identify policy options that reconcile national and international obligations to address climate change and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. In this paper we consider our current understanding of the implications of energy systems for ecosystem services and identify key elements of an assessment. Analysis must consider the full life cycle of energy systems, the territorial and international footprint, use a consistent ecosystem service framework that incorporates the value of both market and non-market goods, and consider the spatial and temporal dynamics of both the energy and environmental system. While significant methodological challenges exist, the approach we detail can provide the holistic view of energy and ecosystem services interactions required to inform the future of global energy policy.

CIEMAP Report: A Low Carbon Future for the UK

Our team has produced a report that considers the ways in which industrial energy and material demand reduction can contribute to a low carbon future for the UK.

This report is a synthesis of some of the research conducted by the centre thus far. It highlights key areas of interest and possibilities for further research.

Read the full report here: CIEMAP REPORT

The influence of UK emissions reduction targets on the emissions of the global steel industry

Jonathan Norman has published a new paper in Resources, Conservation & Recycling. Read the paper here.


The steel industry is the world’s largest industrial source of CO2 emissions. Recent UK economic policies have led to reduced domestic steel production giving an apparent reduction in national emissions. However, demand for goods made from steel has not reduced. Emissions have thus been transferred not reduced and implementation of UK climate policies may in future expand this ‘carbon leakage.’ This paper explores how future UK demand for goods made from steel might be supplied while satisfying national climate policies, and how this will influence global CO2 emissions. Current flows and stocks of steel are estimated from existing databases. Evidence from other developed economies suggests that per capita stocks are tending towards a saturation level so future demand is forecast from population growth and the expected rate of replacement of a stable stock. The carbon intensities of five different steel-making routes are used to predict the allowed scale of future domestic steel production within the industrial emissions allowances set in four energy pathways defined by the UK Government. The remaining requirement for steel must be sourced offshore and the associated emissions are predicted, to give an estimate of the global emissions arising from final demand in the UK. The results show that current UK climate strategy may have a limited effect in reducing the CO2 emissions of the global steel industry, unless the UK shifts towards producing more of its own steel products with domestic secondary steel-making. This option would also increase the security of UK supply and support an expansion of UK manufacturing.

Energy efficiency potentials: Contrasting thermodynamic, technical and economic limits for organic Rankine cycles within UK industry

Geoff Hammond and Jonathan Norman have published in Applied Energy. Read the article here.


The laws of thermodynamics set a theoretical limit on the energy savings that can be realised in a given application. This thermodynamic potential cannot be reached in practice, and a technical potential for energy savings is defined by the performance of available technology. Only applications of the technology that are considered economic will usually be considered for installation. This economic potential will itself not be fully realised, with the actual savings that are achieved limited by further barriers. A database on surplus heat availability within UK industry was used to estimate the thermodynamic, technical, and economic potentials when converting this surplus heat to electricity using organic Rankine cycles (ORCs). Technical and economic information was based on that reported from existing installations and manufacturers. Installations economic over the target payback period totalled approximately 3.5 PJ/yr of electricity generation, primarily in the steel, chemicals and cement subsectors. However, this result is sensitive to the input parameters, particularly the future price of electricity and required payback period, which are uncertain. Therefore a range of possible scenarios were investigated. The results form a basis for discussion on how to close this “gap” between the identified potentials and the savings realised in practice.

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