GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH ›› 2010, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (5): 778-788.doi: 10.11821/yj2010050002

• Earth Surface Processes • Previous Articles     Next Articles

A sketch map of low-carbon economic development in China

LIU Wei-dong1,2, ZHANG Lei1,2, WANG Li-mao1,2, ZHAO Jian-an1,2,1,2, TANG Zhi-peng1,2, GAO Bo-yang1,2,3, YU Jin-yan1,2,3   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    2. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    3. Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2010-03-11 Revised:2010-03-31 Online:2010-05-20 Published:2010-05-20


At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen, China announced its target of CO2 emission reduction, i.e. by 2020 the amount of CO2 emission per output unit (GDP) will drop by 40%-45% compared to that in 2005. The target will be incorporated into China's long term socio-economic planning. Towards such a target, there have been two distinct viewpoints in China. While some scholars tend to consider it quite easy, others argue that it is hard to achieve the target as China is still in the middle of rapid industrialization and urbanization. Based on existing literature and research, in this paper, we will first examine the factors affecting CO2 emission in China, and then analyze the potentials of major ways of CO2 emission reduction, and lastly propose a sketch map of low-carbon economic development. We try to argue that there exists a reversed U-shaped relationship between the amount of CO2 emission per output unit (carbon intensity) and industrial structure. Carbon intensity rises with economic growth at the early stage of industrialization, and decreases after going to the peak at the middle stage of industrialization. By employing a multiple regression, we find that the change of carbon (energy) intensity in the last 15 years in China can be well explained by two factors, i.e. the share of the tertiary industry in GDP and the share of high energy-consumption sectors in total value-added of the second industry (including thermal-power, metallurgy, chemical and construction materials). In 2002-2008, the tertiary share in GDP in China rose little while that of high energy-consumption sectors rose significantly, which resulted in an upturn of carbon intensity of economic output in China. Such "abnormal" can be partly attributed to China's development pattern of being a world factory of low-end commodities. Thus, we tend to argue that China might not be able to fulfill the 2020 target of CO2 emission reduction if it did not make a visible progress in changing the development pattern and industrial restructuring. That is, adjustment of industrial structure is a major way of fulfilling the 2020 target, which may contribute around 61.5%~67.2% of carbon intensity reduction. Besides, energy saving via technical measures and innovation in sectors like industries (13% of contribution), buildings (10%) and transportation (3%) can make significant contribution to fulfilling the target. Lastly, the development of non-fossil energy is another important path of low-carbon growth, which can contribute about 10% to carbon intensity reduction.

Key words: low-carbon growth, development pattern, industrial structuring, industrial energy-saving, building energy-saving, transportation energy-saving, non-fossil energy.