Internal outsourcing a threat to China’s emissions targets

June 13, 2013
China's inter-provincial carbon outsourcing

A study published by China’s National Academy of Sciences has found that by importing goods from less developed regions of the country, wealthy provinces along China’s coastline are, in effect, outsourcing their CO2 emissions.

The consequence of this is that China's efforts to reduce the growth of emissions without damaging its rapid economic growth are being undermined by carbon outsourcing and it will have a much tougher time meeting its emissions reduction targets, according to a report in the UK’s The Guardian.

"Recent studies have shown that the high standard of living enjoyed by people in the richest countries often come at the expense of CO2 emissions produced with technologies of low-efficiency in less affluent, developing countries," the study said. "Less apparent is that this relationship between developed and developing can exist within a single country's borders."

Chinese authorities set a number of target for carbon intensity with less stringent targets for less developed regions and tighter targets target for richer areas. It turns out, however, that those less developed regions, with far more carbon-intensive production units, were producing a large share of the goods for affluent areas of the country.

China’s most affluent areas, such as Beijing and Shanghai and provinces such as Guangdong, are outsourcing more than 50 percent of the emissions related to the products they consumed, the researchers said. In some instances up to 80 percent of emissions related to goods consumed in the richer coastal provinces were imported from less-developed provinces in central and western China, the study said.

Without policy attention to this sort of interprovincial carbon leakage, the less developed provinces will struggle to meet their emissions intensity targets, whereas the more developed provinces might achieve their own targets by further outsourcing," the study, which tracked the emissions produced in the manufacture of goods traded across 26 provinces and four cities, said.

"I think the carbon leakage problem is likely to make it more challenging for China to meet its climate goals," said Ailun Yang, a climate analyst for China, India and other emerging economies at the World Resources Institute.