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The distribution of total greenhouse gas emissions by households in the UK, and some implications for social policy

  • Saamah Abdallah
  • Ian Gough
  • Victoria Johnson
  • Josh Ryan-Collins
  • Cindy Smith
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    This paper maps the distribution of total direct and embodied emissions of greenhouse gases by households in the UK and goes on to analyse their main drivers. Previous research has studied the distribution of direct emissions by households, notably from domestic fuel and electricity, but this is the first to cover the indirect emissions embodied in the consumption of food, consumer goods and services, including imports. To study total emissions by British households we link an input-output model of the UK economy to the UK Expenditure and Food Survey. Results are presented as descriptive statistics followed by regression analysis. All categories of per capita emission rise with income which is the main driver. Two other variables are always significant: household composition, partly reflecting economies of scale in consumption and emissions in larger households, and employment status. This 'standard' model explains 35% of variation in total emissions, reflecting further variation within income groups and household types. We also compute the distribution of emissions derived from the consumption of welfare state services: here, lower income and pensioner households 'emit' more due to their greater use of these services. To take further account of the social implications of these findings, we first estimate emissions per £ of income. This shows a reverse slope with emissions per £ rising as one descends the income scale. The decline with income is especially acute for domestic energy, housing and food emissions, 'necessary' expenditures with a lower income elasticity of demand. Next, we move away from per capita emissions by assuming children under 14 emit half that of adults, which reduces disparities between household types. To implement personal carbon allowances, further research will be needed into the carbon allowances of children and single person households. Current government policies to raise carbon prices mainly in domestic energy are found to be especially regressive, but tracking total carbon consumption within a country would require radical changes in monitoring carbon flows at national borders. In the meantime, poorly targeted policies to compensate 'fuel poor' families should give way to more radical 'eco-social' policies, such as house retrofitting, coupled with 'social' tariffs for domestic energy.

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    Paper provided by Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE in its series CASE Papers with number case152.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2011
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:cep:sticas:case152
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    1. Simon Dresner & Paul Ekins, 2006. "Economic instruments to improve UK home energy efficiency without negative social impacts," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 27(1), pages 47-74, March.
    2. Wiedmann, Thomas & Minx, Jan & Barrett, John & Wackernagel, Mathis, 2006. "Allocating ecological footprints to final consumption categories with input-output analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 28-48, January.
    3. repec:cep:sticas:/145 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Druckman, A. & Jackson, T., 2008. "Household energy consumption in the UK: A highly geographically and socio-economically disaggregated model," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 3167-3182, August.
    5. Roberts, Simon, 2008. "Energy, equity and the future of the fuel poor," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(12), pages 4471-4474, December.
    6. Kerkhof, Annemarie C. & Benders, Ren M.J. & Moll, Henri C., 2009. "Determinants of variation in household CO2 emissions between and within countries," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 1509-1517, April.
    7. Vringer, Kees & Blok, Kornelis, 1995. "The direct and indirect energy requirements of households in the Netherlands," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(10), pages 893-910, October.
    8. Jackson, Tim & Papathanasopoulou, Eleni, 2008. "Luxury or 'lock-in'? An exploration of unsustainable consumption in the UK: 1968 to 2000," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1-2), pages 80-95, December.
    9. Druckman, Angela & Jackson, Tim, 2009. "The carbon footprint of UK households 1990-2004: A socio-economically disaggregated, quasi-multi-regional input-output model," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(7), pages 2066-2077, May.
    10. Ian Gough & Sam Marden, 2011. "Fiscal costs of climate mitigation programmes in the UK: A challenge for social policy?," CASE Papers case145, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
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