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Unequal household carbon footprints in China


Households’ carbon footprints are unequally distributed among the rich and poor due to differences in the scale and patterns of consumption. We present distributional focused carbon footprints for Chinese households and use a carbon-footprint-Gini coefficient to quantify inequalities. We find that in 2012 the urban very rich, comprising 5% of population, induced 19% of the total carbon footprint from household consumption in China, with 6.4 tCO2/cap. The average Chinese household footprint remains comparatively low (1.7 tCO2/cap), while those of the rural population and urban poor, comprising 58% of population, are 0.5–1.6 tCO2/cap. Between 2007 and 2012 the total footprint from households increased by 19%, with 75% of the increase due to growing consumption of the urban middle class and the rich. This suggests that a transformation of Chinese lifestyles away from the current trajectory of carbon-intensive consumption patterns requires policy interventions to improve living standards and encourage sustainable consumption.

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Figure 1: Carbon footprints of Chinese and international household consumption in 2012 and 2011, respectively, from fossil fuels and cement production.
Figure 2: Relative distribution of household carbon footprints from fossil fuels and cement, income and population size among 13 income groups in 2012.
Figure 3: Quantifying inequality.


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This work was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0602603 and 2016YFA0602604), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41629501, 71521002, 41461118, 41501605), Austrian National Science funded project ‘MISO—modelling the global metabolic transition’ (P27590), the UK Economic and Social Research Council funded project ‘Dynamics of Green Growth in European and Chinese Cities’ (ES/L016028/1), the UK Natural Environment Research Council funded project ‘Integrated assessment of the emission-health-socioeconomics nexus and air pollution mitigation solutions and interventions in Beijing’ (NE/N00714X/1). Many thanks go to J. Minx, F. Krausmann and J. K. Steinberger for their feedback on the manuscript, to G. Peters for support with the global emissions data set for the GTAP-MRIO and to L. Yu for his feedback on the concordances to bridge the GTAP-MRIO and the Chinese national IOTs classifications.

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D.W. and D.G. designed the research, performed calculations and discussed the results. D.W. wrote the paper. D.G., Z.L., J.M., N.Z. and Y.-M.W. collected data and contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Dominik Wiedenhofer or Dabo Guan or Yi-Ming Wei.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Wiedenhofer, D., Guan, D., Liu, Z. et al. Unequal household carbon footprints in China. Nature Clim Change 7, 75–80 (2017).

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