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Carbon footprint of Flemish consumption

Issue 27-06-2017Two-thirds of Flemish consumption greenhouse gas emissions originate abroad. On behalf of VMM-MIRA, VITO calculated that consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions in Flanders amount to 20 tonnes per capita. Two-thirds of these emissions originate abroad. Also three-quarters of the jobs on which our consumption is based, are located outside of Flanders.

A country's or region's climate efforts are measured by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from individuals, companies, authorities and transport operations in its own territory. Flanders has per capita emissions of 13 tonnes. It is, however, equally important to take a look at the carbon footprint, the greenhouse gas emissions caused by consumption. Many of the goods and services we consume in fact have long production chains that are located, at least in part, outside of Flanders, and therefore also produce greenhouse gas emissions beyond our borders.

Flemish carbon footprint is too high by a factor of ten

On behalf of the Flanders Environment Agency, VITO calculated Flanders' carbon footprint attributable to the consumption of goods and services. With 20 tonnes per capita, this footprint is significantly higher than the total greenhouse gas emissions on the territory of Flanders. By comparison, to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 °C, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to an average of 2 tonnes per capita by 2050.

Over half of the carbon footprint comes from housing, passenger transport, and food. 90 % of the passenger transport footprint is caused by cars. This involves primarily greenhouse gases from extraction and refining of the fuels used and from the exhaust pipes of the actual vehicles, and to a lesser extent emissions across the vehicle production chains.

Greenhouse gas emissions and jobs are outsourced more than added value

Two-thirds of our consumption-related greenhouse gas emissions originate outside Flanders. One-third is caused by production outside of Europe, mainly in Asia. Also the employment on which Flemish consumption is based, is massively outsourced. Three-quarters of the jobs are located outside of Flanders. Half of them are located outside of Europe, with Asia and Africa topping the list with 1.7 million and 800,000 jobs respectively. In both regions, more than half a million of these jobs are in the agriculture and fisheries sector.

The distribution of the added value created by Flemish consumption reveals a different picture. Unlike greenhouse gas emissions and employment, added value is created mainly in Flanders (55 %) and in the rest of Europe (35 %). Flemish consumption therefore contributes mainly to the Flemish and European gross domestic product.

Our consumption generates greenhouse gas emissions outside Flanders, but it also works the other way round: two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions from Flemish companies are the result of production for export. The greenhouse gas emissions outside Flanders caused by our consumption are, however, twice as high as the greenhouse gases generated in Flanders by production for export.

Half of Flemish food consumption is based on jobs in agriculture and fisheries in Africa and Asia

The report also looks in detail at the carbon footprint of food products purchased by Flemish households, which originates mainly (85 %) outside Flanders. Over half of the greenhouse gas emissions occur in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, mainly in Europe. A quarter of the emissions is generated during the extraction and production of fossil fuels and electricity used by the different sectors in the chain. The Flemish agriculture and food industry combined have a share of 10 % in the carbon footprint of food consumed in Flanders. Conversely, over two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture and food industry in Flanders are linked to production for exports.

Two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions linked to food consumption in Flanders originate within Europe. For employment, the ratio is the reverse: three-quarters of the jobs are located outside of Europe. Remarkably, half of the total number of jobs on which our Flemish food consumption is based, is situated in agriculture and fisheries in Africa and Asia. Less than 1 % of the employment is situated in Flemish agriculture.

Unlike employment, the added value created by Flemish food consumption originates mainly in Flanders (41 %) and in the rest of Europe (46 %). In Asia and Africa, where almost two-thirds of the jobs are located, only 6 % of the added value is created.

Focus on more sustainable trade and production chains and more sustainable consumer behaviour

The study concludes that policy should focus not only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the own territory, but also on consumer behaviour and on reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout entire production chains. Companies and sectors can, for example, have a significant influence on the environmental performance of their suppliers, whilst consumers and authorities can reduce their carbon footprint through their purchasing behaviour. More sustainable international trade and production chains may contribute not only to reducing the carbon footprint and other forms of environmental pressure, but also to reducing poverty and inequality.

The Flemish environmental input-output model

The calculations were made using the Flemish environmental input-output model. This model was developed by VITO and the Federal Planning Bureau on behalf of OVAM, VMM-MIRA and LNE. It systematically links economic data to environmental and employment data, for the entire world economy. It allows the charting and detailed analysis of the impact of production and consumption on the environment, economy and employment, throughout the entire value chain.

Figure: Greenhouse gas emissions, employment and added value linked to Flemish consumption in 2010, broken down by geographical origin

Graph footprint of Flemish consumption

Read the English summary of the Dutch report ‘Carbon footprint of Flemish consumption’

Study commissioned by MIRA, Flanders Environment Report
Research report MIRA/2017/03 and VITO/2017/SMAT/R/1160

researchers: An Vercalsteren, Katrien Boonen, Maarten Christis, Yoko Dams, Evelien Dils, Theo Geerken, Ann Van der Linden, VITO and Erika Vander Putten, VMM

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