Robbie Andrew

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Global environmental footprints


"Environmental flows" (emissions and resource use) are typically allocated to national territories since that is where national governments have jurisdiction both to monitor and to apply policies. This allocation typically leads to "production-based policies", as environmental flows generally - but not always - occur at the location where goods and services are produced.

However, in an increasingly globalised world there has been an increased interest in allocating environmental flows to final consumption instead, leading to an "environmental footprint". An environmental footprint can be conceptualised as the national territorial flows, plus flows occurring in other countries related to the production of imports, minus domestic flows related to the production of exports.

For most environmental flows, developed countries have larger environmental footprints than their national territorial flows, making developed countries "net importers" of environmental flows. This "net import" has tended to increase ever since estimation of environmental footprints started two decades ago. An exception to this general rule are developed countries which are net exporters of raw materials (e.g., Australia, Canada and Norway) and many least developing countries (LDCs).

The "net import" is a result of developed countries increasing their consumption while other countries increase their production and emissions. It has been suggested that this reduces the effectiveness of environmental policies, and that policies therefore should address the environmental footprint rather than just domestic flows.

While there is a significant research on methodologies to estimate environmental footprints and decompose the resulting estimates, there is very little research on policy applications. Most policy research has been on greenhouse gas emissions and using trade measures (e.g., border carbon adjustments) to shift climate policy to a footprint perspective.

Environmental footprints improve our understanding of the role of consumption and international trade on environmental problems. This gives greater understanding to consumers and policy makers, and disaggregated time series of environmental footprints provide an important baseline for potential future policy applications. However, policy applications of environmental footprints are limited by estimation and interpretation uncertainty, and the lack of a clear motivation for policy makers to pursue policies based on environment footprints.

Uncertainty in temperature response to consumption

How much does today's consumption affect long-term temperature change, and how certain can we about these effects? Jonas Karstensen and colleagues present a detailed analysis.Learn more »

Allocation of global temperature change to consumers

In this article Jonas Karstensen and colleagues investigate the effects of consumption on global temperature change. While many studies focus on the well-mixed GHGs (CO2, CH4, etc.), this study includes also the so-called short-lived climate forcers such as SO2 and BC. This extended framing provides a clearer picture of the climate consequences of policy.Learn more »


In this article, Robbie Andrew and Glen Peters describe work using an MRIO table derived from the GTAP database. They discuss the historical development and briefly describe its construction. They also find that carbon footprint estimates are likely to be more influenced by differences in satellite accounts than to differences in the underlying economic data.Learn more »

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