Carbon footprint

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted globally for consumption purposes in the Netherlands, the so-called carbon footprint, fell by almost 18 percent between 2008 and 2016. In 2016, the carbon footprint was 11.4 thousand kilograms of CO2 per capita. In 2008 it was still 13.8 thousand kilograms of CO2 per capita.

Consumption-based GHG emissions
 Consumption-based GHG emissions (tonnes CO2 per capita)

The carbon footprint includes the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that occur globally along the whole supply chain in order to produce goods and services that are used in Dutch final demand, i.e. both consumption and investment. The carbon dioxide emitted in the Netherlands during the consumption of these goods and services are also included in the Dutch footprint. Carbon dioxide emitted in the Netherlands in the production of goods and services destined for foreign countries (exports) are excluded from the Dutch footprint. On the other hand, carbon dioxide emitted abroad in the production of goods and services for Dutch final demand are included in the footprint.

The issue

The difference between the carbon footprint (consumption perspective) and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted directly by the Dutch economy (production perspective) is in international trade. Due to increasing globalisation and complexity of supply chains, emissions associated with international trade are becoming increasingly important. In recent decades, a lot of production capacity has been moved from developed countries to developing countries. The developed countries now import the products instead of producing them in order to fulfil their final demand . From a production perspective, this reduces the emissions of developed countries, but from the consumption perspective the amount of carbon dioxide emitted does not change as long as the consumption pattern of developed countries remains the same.

The consumption perspective is important in view of green growth, because it reflects the extent to which Dutch consumption needs contribute to global carbon dioxide emissions and thus to climate change.


The Dutch carbon footprint decreased between 2008 and 2014 with the strongest decline between 2010 and 2014. The carbon footprint rose slightly between 2014 and 2016. However, total population grew relatively stronger during this period, causing the per capita carbon footprint to decrease.

The carbon footprint can be broken down into two components: emissions by the Dutch economy and the emission trade balance. Emissions by the Dutch economy fluctuate from year to year, partly due to a relatively mild or severe winter; the level dropped by 2.5 percent between 2008 and 2016.

The emission trade balance shows the difference between emissions related to exports and those related to imports. The balance increased continuously between 2008 and 2016, with export-related emissions increasing relatively more than import-related emissions. Between 2012 and 2014, the emission trade balance tilted towards export-related emissions. In other words, the Netherlands had higher emissions for foreign consumption than vice versa. Both components had a downward effect on the Dutch carbon footprint between 2008 and 2016.