Targeted opportunities to address the climate-trade dilemma in China

Zhu Liu, Steven J. Davis, Kuishuang Feng, Klaus Hubacek, Sai Liang, Laura Diaz Anadon, Bin Chen, Jingru Liu, Jinyue Yan, Dabo Guan

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International trade has become the fastest growing driver of global carbon emissions, with large quantities of emissions embodied in exports from emerging economies. International trade with emerging economies poses a dilemma for climate and trade policy: to the extent emerging markets have comparative advantages in manufacturing, such trade is economically efficient and desirable. However, if carbon-intensive manufacturing in emerging countries such as China entails drastically more CO 2 emissions than making the same product elsewhere, then trade increases global CO 2 emissions. Here we show that the emissions embodied in Chinese exports, which are larger than the annual emissions of Japan or Germany, are primarily the result of China's coal-based energy mix and the very high emissions intensity (emission per unit of economic value) in a few provinces and industry sectors. Exports from these provinces and sectors therefore represent targeted opportunities to address the climate-trade dilemma by either improving production technologies and decarbonizing the underlying energy systems or else reducing trade volumes. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-206
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Early online date28 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • Climate-change mitigation
  • Climate-change policy
  • Sustainability

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