Embodied carbon in the U.S. manufacturing and trade

Publication Type

Report

Date Published

01/2021

Abstract

On average, one quarter of the global carbon footprint is embodied in traded goods. These emissions are a growing issue for global efforts to decarbonize the world economy. Embodied emissions in trade are not accounted for by existing greenhouse gas accounting systems. For example, countries only report their domestic carbon emissions (also known as production-based or territorial accounting) to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If the embodied carbon in trade were accounted for and reported, the promising climate trends depicted by many countries would be negated or reversed. For example, many achievements of reducing emissions by developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol would actually appear as emissions outsourced to developing countries. 

Like many other developed countries, the United States is a net importer of embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in trade. The goal of this study was to calculate the carbon footprint of various sectors of the U.S. economy using the latest available data and based on that, estimate the embodied carbon in certain manufacturing sector products imported and exported by the U.S.
 
First, we conducted an input-output analysis to calculate the carbon footprint of 401 aggregate level sectors of the U.S. economy. After that, for a selected number of manufacturing subsectors /products(hereafter referred to as products),we collected their trade(import/export) data and combined that with their computed carbon footprint to estimate the embodied carbon in import and export of these products for the U.S. While we conducted the carbon footprint analysis for sectors covering the entire U.S. economy (401 sectors), we only conducted the embodied carbon in trade analysis for a few products within specific aggregate level manufacturing sectors,such as computer and electronic product manufacturing (NAICS 334), transport equipment manufacturing (NAICS 336), machinery manufacturing (NAICS 333), and chemical manufacturing (NAICS 325). It is possible to do the detailed embodied carbon analysis for all other products within the various aggregate level manufacturing sectors of the U.S. economy, but given the scope of this study and space constraint of this report, we only present the results for a few products.
 
The results of our analysis for the selected products show the embodied carbon in trade for each product by country and also show the rankings of countries in terms of top importers and exporters of embodied carbon in trade with the U.S. Our results show that in majority of cases, the U.S. is a net importer of embodied carbon in trade. 
 
Unless consumption-based accounting is used, the U.S. and other net embodied carbon importing countries may continue to outsource their emissions to meet their climate change mitigation targets under the Paris Agreement, as observed previously with the Kyoto Protocol. Some countries reported reductions that exceeded their Kyoto targets, however, the changes in emissions embodied in imports were comparable to or larger than changes in domestic emissions. Traded emissions undermined emissions reductions in the Kyoto Protocol, and threaten to continue to do so for the Paris Agreement. New climate policies such as California’s Buy Clean act, EU’s proposed border carbon tax adjustment, as well as efforts in the private sector can help address the embodied carbon in traded products.

Year of Publication

2021
Research Areas