Energy and Climate ChangeMemorandum submitted by West Sussex County Council

West Sussex County Council welcomes the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s current inquiry regarding the case for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions reporting, and is grateful for the opportunity to comment on two of the specific issues that it has chosen to examine based upon our experience.

1. Executive Summary

The consumption footprint is around twice the scale of the production measure in West Sussex.

The nature of the consumption measure better reflects people’s intuitive understanding of their footprint, so is more meaningful for residents.

The consumption approach enables place-based local leadership more than the production measure and lends itself to useful political narratives about taking responsibility for our actions.

By linking the footprint to behaviours, we have found consumption metrics useful for policy assessment and evaluation, making it more practical to mainstream activity on carbon.

In practice, consumption-based metrics highlight the need for changes in consumption patterns and lifestyle, and also provide tools to help make this possible. This would be more powerful still if it were part of a nation-wide approach.

2. How do assessments of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions differ when measured on a consumption rather than a production basis?

2.1 In 2010 West Sussex County Council commissioned research to establish a baseline consumption-based carbon footprint for County residents and a consumption-based carbon footprint for the County Council. The residents’ footprint was based on the emissions generated from all the products and services that they use and buy. The Council’s footprint included direct emissions resulting from electricity and water consumption, and emissions in the supply chains of procured goods and services, and commuting. The CO2e for the residents was estimated as 13.7 million tonnes CO2e and the per capita figure as 17.3 tonnes.

2.2 The consumption-based carbon footprint for the County’s residents allowed the emissions, arising from the products and services that residents use and buy, to be broken down into sixteen segments (Figure 1).[1] By contrast, the data on carbon emissions provided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is broken down into only three segments based upon data related to electricity, gas and vehicle fuel use (Figure 2).[2] In the latter data, the County Council’s emissions are included in the Industry and Commercial segment. According to the DECC data total CO2 emissions in the County are estimated as 4.9 million tonnes; that is almost 9 million tonnes less than the consumption-based estimate. The per capita figure is 6.2 tonnes, less than half the amount calculated in the consumption-based footprint. The consumption footprint is around twice the scale of the production-based measure in West Sussex.

2.3 The consumption-based breakdown is easier to understand because it provides a much richer and more action-oriented breakdown than production metrics ever have for local government. It also provides a more comprehensive representation of the source of emissions, and is thus better for informing local policy on tackling climate change.

3. What are the benefits and disadvantages associated with taking a consumption-based rather than production-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions accounting?

3.1. Because a consumption-based model allows a carbon footprint to be broken down into more than the three very broad segments used in the production data, we have found that it is a more comprehensive representation of the source of emissions, and thus better for informing policy. Also, this way of representing the data better reflects people’s instinctive understanding of their carbon footprint, so will be more meaningful than production measurements. WSCC is one of the first Council’s in the UK to set a carbon budget; the comprehensive nature of the consumption footprint benefits this approach because it includes imports and supply chains.

3.2. The consumption approach is appropriate for place-based approaches, which focus attention on geographic and community settings. Place-based approaches will be important in reducing carbon as they provide a means to grasp complex connections and to address challenges and opportunities where the impacts are directly felt. As place-based approaches help us understand individuals' carbon impact, they will be an important stepping-stone towards helping our communities to understand and take responsibility for reducing their carbon impact. The latter is critical as one of the main challenges in addressing climate change is about lifestyles and consumption.

3.3. According to Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University, the essential shifts required in the scale and pattern of consumption to achieve the Government’s climate change targets relies on being able to influence the expectations, choices, behaviours and lifestyles of consumers.[3] We have found that using consumption data provides a clearer indication of the behaviour changes that will be required. For example, instead of always buying new goods people will need to maintain, as well as, recycle goods in order to reduce the 9% of the consumption footprint that is down to “other non-food shopping” (Figure 1). Rather than impacting negatively on the economy this example could bring economic and social benefits to the local community by a growth in the second hand, repair and refurbish industries.

3.4. Understanding the County Council’s consumption-based footprint also allows the Council to address its wider indirect carbon impact, covering emissions from procurement of goods and services and commissioning (scope 3 emissions). This enables us to measure, monitor and manage actual carbon emissions and set carbon budgets for all our services, which are managed alongside financial budgets. We believe that the method used in West Sussex (Fig 1) provided “good enough” data on an affordable basis for policy-making.

3.5. WSCC believes that a consumption-based approach is important if we are going to tackle climate change in an honest way that does not shift responsibility for our carbon emissions, from the goods and services that we buy, to other countries. Consumption-based accounting should be focused on the consumer as the driver of emissions. Domestic emissions can be reduced by relocating production abroad, and/or by substitution of domestically produced goods with imports. WSCC, therefore, believes that it is desirable for the UK to adopt emissions reduction targets on a consumption rather than production basis. This will ensure that we send the right signals to consumers about behaviours and lifestyle choices that will support government policies on climate change.

October 2011


[1] Small World Consulting Ltd, 2010. A local carbon budget for West Sussex: Managing greenhouse gas emissions from consumption by residents, industries and the County Council.

[2] Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2009. Local and regional CO2 emissions estimates for 200509 – Full dataset.

[3] Tim Jackson, 2006. Challenges for Sustainable Consumption Policy in Sustainable Consumption, edited by Tim Jackson, Earthscan, London.

Prepared 16th April 2012