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Emissions embodied in global trade have plateaued due tostructural changes in China

Chen Pan, Glen Peters, Robbie Andrew, Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Shantong Li, Dequn Zhou, Peng Zhou

n the 2000s, the rapid growth of CO2 emitted in the production of exports from developing to developed countries, in which China accounted for the dominant share, led to concerns that climate polices had been undermined by international trade. Arguments on “carbon leakage” and “competitiveness”—which led to the refusal of the U.S. to ratify the Kyoto Protocol—put pressure on developing countries, especially China, to limit their emissions with Border Carbon Adjustments used as one threat. After strong growth in the early 2000s, emissions exported from developing to developed countries plateaued and could have even decreased since 2007. These changes were mainly due to China: In 2002–2007, China's exported emissions grew by 827 MtCO2, amounting to almost all the 892 MtCO2 total increase in emissions exported from developing to developed countries, while in 2007–2012, emissions exported from China decreased by 229 MtCO2, contributing to the total decrease of 172 MtCO2 exported from developing to developed countries. We apply Structural Decomposition Analysis to find that, in addition to the diminishing effects of the global financial crisis, the slowdown and eventual plateau was largely explained by several potentially permanent changes in China: Decline in export volume growth, improvements in CO2 intensity, and changes in production structure and the mix of exported products. We argue that growth in China's exported emissions will not return to the high levels during the 2000s, therefore the arguments for climate polices focused on embodied emissions such as Border Carbon Adjustments are now weakened.

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