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Global environmental footprints

A guide to estimating, interpreting and using consumption-based accounts of resource use and environmental impacts

image of Global environmental footprints

Emissions and resources are typically allocated to national territories. There has been increased interest in allocating environmental flows to the final consumption of goods and services. The resulting "environment footprints" are particularly relevant for global environmental problems in a globalised world. Developed countries generally have larger environmental footprints than their national territorial flows, and the gap has tended to increase over the last two decades. Consequently, some have argued that environmental policies should address the environmental footprint. Despite the potential policy relevance, there has been relatively little research on policy applications. While environmental footprints have many advantages, policy applications are limited by estimation and interpretation uncertainty, and by the lack of a clear policy motivation.

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Methodological and Analytical Basis

Before policies can be implemented, it is beneficial to have a system of Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) so that progress can be tracked. Since the estimation of environmental footprints requires combining different data sets, some of which are conflicting, the resulting footprints will be uncertain. Further issues arise in terms of the timeliness of estimates and whether the level of disaggregation is adequate for policy needs. In this chapter, we first give a brief background of “environmental footprints”, before discussing the key methods and necessary data to estimate environmental footprints. Finally, we discuss several aspects of uncertainty, and what that may mean for the reliability of estimates used in policy.

English

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