Although climate change and international trade are interdependent, policy-makers often address the two topics separately. This may inhibit progress at the intersection of climate change and trade and could present a serious constraint for global climate action. One key risk is carbon leakage through emission outsourcing, i.e. reductions in emissions in countries with rigorous climate policies being offset by increased emissions in countries with less stringent policies. We first analyze the Paris Agreement’s nationally determined contributions (NDC) and investigate how carbon leakage is addressed. We find that the risk of carbon leakage is insufficiently accounted for in these documents. Then, we apply a novel quantitative approach (Jiborn et al., 2018; Baumert et al., 2019) to analyze trends in carbon outsourcing related to a previous international climate regime—the Kyoto Protocol—in order to assess whether reported emission reductions were offset by carbon outsourcing in the past. Our results for 2000–2014 show a more nuanced picture of carbon leakage during the Kyoto Protocol than previous studies have reported. Carbon outsourcing from developed to developing countries was dominated by the USA outsourcing to China, while the evidence for other developed countries was mixed. Against conventional wisdom, we find that, in general, countries that stayed committed to their Kyoto Protocol emission targets were either only minor carbon outsourcers or actually even insourcers—although the trend was slightly negative—indicating that binding emissions targets do not necessarily lead to carbon outsourcing. We argue that multiple carbon monitoring approaches are needed to reduce the risk of carbon leakage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-163
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics
Issue number2
Early online date2020 Sept 16
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jun 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History
  • Climate Research

Free keywords

  • Carbon leakage
  • Paris agreement
  • Kyoto protocol
  • Emission outsourcing
  • Climate policy
  • Carbon monitoring


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