West Sussex study shows personal flights the largest single component of carbon footprint

West Sussex County Council have done an analysis of their carbon emissions, to understand individual emissions and help communities to change their lifestyles, consumption etc. The consumption-based carbon footprint for West Sussex residents broken down into sixteen specific segments shows that the largest single component is personal flights, at 13%. This comes higher even than food and drink (retail) at 12%. And then at 10% each are household fuel, and domestic vehicle fuel. Followed by other non food shopping at 9% and then household electricity at 7% – with other sectors at lower figures.  Remarkable that the flights component is so very high.  For the Lake District, the proportion of emissions from foreign flights by visitors to the Lake District was a third of the total budget—yet of the 16 million visitors a year, only 10% come from abroad.   The Lake District National Park Authority say there should be more efforts to encourage UK holidaymakers to holiday at home.



House of Commons

Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting – Energy and Climate Change 

3  Policy applications

27.  DECC stated that owing to the assumptions required to estimate consumption-based emissions, they have “only limited use in policy evaluation”.  In order to explore the utility of consumption-based emissions reporting, we took evidence from three regional authorities and organisations which had assessed their emissions on a consumptions basis, and subsequently adopted consumption-based emission targets and policies: the Lake District National Park Authority, West Sussex County Council, and Manchester City Council. These three regional authorities commissioned Small World Consulting to undertake the assessment of their consumption emissions.

West Sussex County Council

28.  West Sussex County Council believed that consumption-based emissions reporting was appropriate for “place-based approaches” to cutting emissions that focused on an individual’s carbon impact, and so could enable communities to “understand and take responsibility” for reducing their emissions through changes to their lifestyles and consumption.  The Council believed that using consumption data provided a “clearer indication of the behaviour changes that will be required” to drive down emissions.

29.  Figure 4 shows the consumption-based carbon footprint for West Sussex residents broken down into sixteen specific segments. In comparison, information at the county-level provided by DECC was far coarser and less informative, being broken down into road transport (32%), domestic (34%), and industrial and commercial (34%).   West Sussex argued that the consumption-based approach was easier to understand because it provides a “much richer and more action-orientated breakdown [of emissions]” for local governments than territorial metrics can West Sussex County Council added that a consumption approach provided a more “comprehensive representation of the source of emissions” and was therefore better for informing policies to limit climate change.

Figure 4—Breakdown of the carbon footprint of West Sussex residents by source 


Source: West Sussex County Council





Lake District

31.  The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) manages the Lake District in partnership with a mixture of public, private, and voluntary-sector groups (including district and borough councils, business associations, the Environment Agency, and Government Office Northwest).

32.  The LDNPA found that consumption-based emissions reporting led to a comprehensive “picture of emissions” as it included emissions from imports and the supply chain.

The LDNPA believed that a “carbon budget framework” based on consumption information could be explained in a similar way to a financial budget, as it could give an indication of how much carbon could be “spent” and what it could be spent on.    It added that such an approach was particularly useful for local government as they have more responsibility for—and opportunity to influence—”indirect emissions [from] behaviours and lifestyles” than they do large sources of direct emissions such as power plants and large industry.

However, the LDNPA acknowledged that consumption measures were more complex and had greater uncertainties.

33.  The LDNPA believed that the consumption-based information in Figure 5 provided better guidance for mitigation strategies than a territorial based analysis. For example:

  • the top two bars show that household energy use was not a major source of emissions (which, the LDNPA believed, would not be the case if measured using a territorial-based approach);
  • transport, particularly aviation (mainly visitors getting there and away), has a very significant impact. The LDNPA believed that this implied there should be more efforts to encourage UK holidaymakers to holiday at home; and
  • the significance of food and drink led to the promotion of locally sourced, seasonal food.

Figure 5—the carbon footprint of the Lake District National Park measure on a consumption basis (tonnes of CO2) 


Source: Lake District National Park Authority

34.  Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park Authority, told us that he was “surprised to find the proportion [of emissions on a consumption-basis] from foreign flights by visitors to the Lake District was […] a third of the total budget—yet of our 16 million visitors a year, only 10% come from abroad”.   

Mr Leafe observed that, with aviation taken out, “transport and accommodation of the visitors in the Lake District […] become very significant […] we have used those figures to support a bid that we made successfully to the Department for Transport’s sustainable transport fund for £5 million of investment in sustainable transport”.





and it goes on to say:

Regional to national

37.  West Sussex County Council thought that consumption-based metrics highlighted the need for changes in consumption patterns and lifestyle, and argued that the case would be more powerful still if it were part of a “nation-wide approach”.[70] The LDNPA also suggested that it would be useful to have “national-level consumption-based emissions accounting” as well as “clear protocols” that would enable comparisons.[71] Manchester City Council believed that it was feasible to create consumption-based emissions targets on a national level, adding that it could “help focus policy intervention in a number of areas” and that it could “give a much clearer indication of the UK’s impact on world-wide emissions”.[72] Professor Barrett suggested “if organisations are starting to think in [consumption] terms [at the regional level], then we need to be thinking about that at a national level as well”.[73]

38.  We asked the Minister whether he thought that the experiences of the local authorities showed that consumption-based emission reporting was capable of generating new policy options at the national level that would not have been evident if only territorial emissions were considered. He responded: “Yes, I am sure […] the more information you have and the more localised and more specific it is to the people who are affected, the more helpful it is.”[74]

39.  It is evident that the consideration of consumption-based emissions encourages the development of new policy options, as revealed by the experiences of regional authorities that have adopted a consumption-based approach to emissions accounting. We recommend that DECC explore the options for incorporating consumption-based emissions data into the policy making process, and set out the steps it will take when responding to the Committee’s report.


Defra’s latest consumption emissions data

40.  On 8 March 2012 Defra published a statistical release on the “UK’s Carbon Footprint 1990-2009”.[75] These figures showed that while the UK’s carbon dioxide footprint (consumption emissions) fell 9 % between 2008 and 2009, this was against the backdrop of a steady rise of 35% between 1995 and 2005, leaving the footprint in 2009 “some 20 per cent higher than it was in 1990”.[76] Defra’s analysis revealed that between 1990 and 2009:

[…]carbon dioxide emissions relating to imports doubled and emissions relating to the consumption of goods and services produced in the UK decreased by 10 per cent.[77]

41.  Defra’s findings also indicated that the UK’s “total carbon footprint”, which included greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide, had increased by 12% between 1990 and 2009.[78]

42.  We asked Defra’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Taylor of Holbeach CBE, about these latest figures prior to their publication. Although he had not seen them, he expected the new data to show a reduction in the UK’s consumption-based emissions over the period 2008-09.[79] We inquired whether this fall in consumption-based emissions was more likely to be a result of the recession rather than the UK’s climate policies. Lord Taylor did not dissent from this assertion.[80]

43.  The 9% fall in the UK’s consumption-based emissions between 2008 and 2009 was primarily a result of the economic downturn, rather than of the UK’s policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Discounting the effects of the recession, the UK’s consumption-based emissions have been on an upward trend since 1990.