Towards Robust, Authoritative Assessments of Environmental Impacts Embodied in Trade: Current State and Recommendations

Arnold Tukker, Arjan de Koning, Anne Owen, Franz Stephan Lutter, Martin Bruckner, Stefan Giljum, Konstantin Stadler, Richard Wood, Rutger Hoekstra

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review

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Global multiregional input-output databases (GMRIOs) became the standard tool for track
ing environmental impacts through global supply chains. To date, several GMRIOs are
available, but the numerical results differ. This paper considers how GMRIOs can be made
more robust and authoritative. We show that GMRIOs need detail in environmentally
relevant sectors. On the basis of a review of earlier work, we conclude that the highest
uncertainty in footprint analyses is caused by the environmental data used in a GMRIO,
followed by the size of country measured in gross domestic product (GDP) as fraction of
the global total, the structure of the national table, and only at the end the structure of
trade. We suggest the following to enhance robustness of results. In the short term, we
recommend using the Single country National Accounts Consistent footprint approach,
that uses official data for extensions and the national table for the country in question,
combined with embodiments in imports calculated using a GMRIO. In a time period of
2 to 3 years, we propose work on harmonized environmental data for water, carbon,
materials, and land, and use the aggregated Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) Inter-Country Input-Output GMRIO as default in combination with
detailing procedures developed in, for example, the EXIOBASE and Eora projects. In the
long term, solutions should be coordinated by the international organizations such as the
United Nations (UN) Statistical Division, OECD, and Eurostat. This could ensure that when
input-output tables and trade data of individual countries are combined, that the global
totals are consistent and that bilateral trade asymmetries are resolved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585 - 598
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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