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China announced at the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 that the country would reach peak carbon emissions around 2030. Since then, widespread attention has been devoted to determining when and how this goal will be achieved. This study aims to explore the role of China’s changing regional development patterns in the achievement of this goal. This study uses the logarithmic mean Divisia index (LMDI) to estimate seven socioeconomic drivers of the changes in CO2 emissions in China since 2000. The results show that China’s carbon emissions have plateaued since 2012 mainly because of energy efficiency gains and structural upgrading (i.e., industrial structure, energy mix and regional structure). Regional structure, measured by provincial economic growth shares, has drastically reduced CO2 emissions since 2012. The effects of these drivers on emissions changes varied across regions due to their different regional development patterns. Industrial structure and energy mix resulted in emissions growth in some regions, but these two drivers led to emissions reduction at the national level. For example, industrial structure reduced China’s CO2 emissions by 1.0% from 2013-2016; however, it increased CO2 emissions in the Northeast and Northwest regions by 1.7% and 0.9%, respectively. By studying China’s plateauing CO2 emissions in the new normal stage at the regional level, it is recommended that regions cooperate to improve development patterns.
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