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Economic development and converging household carbon footprints in China


There are substantial differences in carbon footprints across households. This study applied an environmentally extended multiregional input–output approach to estimate household carbon footprints for 12 different income groups of China’s 30 regions. Subsequently, carbon footprint Gini coefficients were calculated to measure carbon inequality for households across provinces. We found that the top 5% of income earners were responsible for 17% of the national household carbon footprint in 2012, while the bottom half of income earners caused only 25%. Carbon inequality declined with economic growth in China across space and time in two ways: first, carbon footprints showed greater convergence in the wealthier coastal regions than in the poorer inland regions; second, China’s national carbon footprint Gini coefficients declined from 0.44 in 2007 to 0.37 in 2012. We argue that economic growth not only increases income levels but also contributes to an overall reduction in carbon inequality in China.

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Fig. 1: Per capita carbon footprints of 30 of China’s provinces.
Fig. 2: The per capita carbon footprints of 12 income groups for 30 of China’s provinces in 2012.
Fig. 3: CF-Gini coefficients and per capita carbon footprints of different income groups for 30 provinces.
Fig. 4: Total, rural and urban CF-Gini and income Gini coefficients in China.

Data availability

The 2012 China MRIO table is compiled by Mi et al.31 (, and global MRIO tables are from the GTAP database ( Carbon emission inventories can be sourced from the China Emission Accounts and Datasets ( The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

Code availability

Requests for code developed in Matlab to process and analyse the primary data collected in this study will be reviewed and made available upon reasonable request.


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This study was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0602603), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71521002, 71642004, 71874014, 71761137001).

Author information




Z.M. designed the study and preformed calculations. Z.M. and J.Z. prepared the manuscript. J.O. and J.M. collected data on household expenditure and carbon emissions. All authors (Z.M., J.Z., J.M., J.O., K.H., Z.L., D.C., N.S., S.L. and Y.-M.W.) participated in performing the analysis and contributed to writing the manuscript. Y.-M.W. coordinated and supervised the project.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Zhifu Mi or Jing Meng or Yi-Ming Wei.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplemental Information

Supplementary Tables 1–12, Figs. 1–3 and refs. 1–4.

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Mi, Z., Zheng, J., Meng, J. et al. Economic development and converging household carbon footprints in China. Nat Sustain 3, 529–537 (2020).

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