Material Flow Accounting of the UK

Linking UK consumption to global impacts with an example of imports from China

Authored by: Dabo Guan , Ashok Chapagain , Jan Minx , Martin Bruckner , Klaus Hubacek

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Economics in Asia

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  February  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415656450
eBook ISBN: 9781315746289
Adobe ISBN: 9781317597872


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The speed of economic globalization and integration has accelerated over the last two decades to an extent where the supply chains of most products have been fragmented all over the world. However, the big picture remains that while Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are the main consumers of world produce, a range of developing countries are becoming the main providers of the resource-intensive products at the cost of a wide range of impacts on their environment. Based on the criteria of the ecological footprint, it is estimated that the total consumption in the UK is more than three times larger than the present regenerating capacity of the planet Earth, meaning that the UK consumption is far beyond environmental limits of the globe (WWF, 2006). A significant portion of resource-intensive products are mainly produced and imported from developing countries. Significant pollution and environmental impacts have been left in the mining site during the materials mining processes. For example, from extraction to combustion, every step in the process of using coal damages the environment; coal extraction produces water, air and noise pollution as well as impacts on aquifers, water systems and land. The spread of coal dust, as well as other environmental problems, occurs with coal transportation. Damages from coal combustion include air pollution resulting from dust, NOX, sulfur oxides (SOX), CO2 and mercury. These pollutants would cause respiratory disease and seriously impact public health. A recent report, “The true cost of coal,” released by Greenpeace states that the environmental and social costs associated with China’s use of coal came to RMB1.7 trillion – that’s about 7.1 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2005. Further, more than 31,000 coal miners in China died from accidents down the mines between 2000 and 2006.

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