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Determinants of stagnating carbon intensity in China


China committed itself to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy (the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP) by 40–45% during 2005–2020. Yet, between 2002 and 2009, China experienced a 3% increase in carbon intensity, though trends differed greatly among its 30 provinces. Decomposition analysis shows that sectoral efficiency gains in nearly all provinces were offset by movement towards a more carbon-intensive economic structure. Such a sectoral shift seemed to be heavily affected by the growing role of investments and capital accumulation in China’s growth process which has favoured sectors with high carbon intensity. Panel data regressions show that changes in carbon intensity were smallest in sectors dominating the regional economy (so as not to endanger these large sectors, which are the mainstay of the provincial economy), whereas scale and convergence effects played a much smaller role.

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Figure 1: The four quadrants show the relationship between two factors in driving regional carbon efficiency changes among 30 Chinese provinces.


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The authors acknowledge support from China’s National Basic Research Program (2014CB441301 and 2010CB951803) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41328008, 41222036, 71325006 and 71033004). D.G. acknowledges the Collaborative Innovation Centre for Global Change Studies and ESRC funded project of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy. S.K. acknowledges support from the German Ministry of Science and Technology as part of the ’Entdeken’ Project. Z.L. acknowledges the Giorgio Ruffolo fellowship and support from the Italian Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea. Q.Z. and K. He acknowledge support from the Collaborative Innovation Centre for Regional Environmental Quality.

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D.G., S.K. and K. Hubacek designed the research; D.G., Z.L. and Q.Z. compiled the data; D.G. and K. Hubacek performed initial decomposition analysis and produced early drafts; S.K. performed panel data analysis; all authors contributed to interpretation of the results and writing.

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Correspondence to Dabo Guan or Qiang Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Guan, D., Klasen, S., Hubacek, K. et al. Determinants of stagnating carbon intensity in China. Nature Clim Change 4, 1017–1023 (2014).

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