ESCoE: Net-zero, climate change and the environment - measurement of environmental footprints and the circular economy

The UK’s Net Zero (NZ) target focusses on the reduction of territorial GHG emissions (those emitted within the UK’s boundary). Reductions are possible through decarbonisation of industrial sectors (e.g. using renewable energy sources), resource efficiency (e.g. requiring less material to produce the same service) and demand side measures (e.g. reducing demand for home energy through retrofit).

Measuring reductions in territorial emissions is only part of the picture of the UK’s global environmental impact. This project aims to go beyond traditional measures of environmental impact. Firstly, we live in a global economy and the goods and services required to meet the UK’s needs cannot be completely sourced domestically. The UK is a net importer of goods and the full impacts of our consumption need to be accounted for. The Committee for Climate Change states that we must “ensure that policy designed to reduce territorial emissions does not increase consumption emissions, it must be designed to avoid causing carbon leakage”.  Secondly, we need to consider impacts beyond emissions – a full Environmental Footprint would assess the changing material, energy, land and water footprint in addition to emissions. Policy designed to reduce territorial emissions should not have the effect of increasing our demand for materials, energy, land and water in the UK or internationally. 

Many of the UK’s NZ climate policies will be effective in cutting the UK’s imported impacts as well as those generated domestically. In addition, the effect of many demand side strategies such as ‘the sharing economy’ and ‘low meat diets’ can only be determined using household consumption calculations. A consumption-based account (CBA) allows for the calculation of the total environmental footprint that the UK is responsible for, an estimate of the reach of UK Climate Policy beyond our borders, and a methodology for evaluating demand side strategies.
University of Leeds produces the UK’s CBA for Defra and the Office for National Statistics and this project seeks to improve and expand this calculation. As accounting from a consumption perspective moves up the political agenda there is an opportunity to work with the ONS to improve the underlying datasets and produce policy relevant data for UK Government.


Set of Official Statistics on environmental footprints.

Publications and outputs


Academic paper 1 (and accompanying technical report): “Exploring the effect of trade data choice on the UK’s consumption-based account”. To be submitted to 30th International Input Output Association Conference 2024 and to a relevant academic journal (Economic Systems Research).

Academic paper 2 (and accompanying technical report):: “Disaggregation of key industrial sectors in an MRIO table to better estimate environmental footprints” To be submitted to 30th International Input Output Association Conference 2024 and to a relevant academic journal (Economic Systems Research).

Project website