Energy-pollution-socioeconomic assessment from production- and consumption-based accounting approach

Ou, Jiamin (2020) Energy-pollution-socioeconomic assessment from production- and consumption-based accounting approach. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Rapid urbanization and industrialization in developing countries have stimulated energy consumption and resulted in environmental degradation. One of the global challenges today is to sustain socioeconomic development under the constraints of limited resources and without compromise in environmental wellness, climate resilience or function. Sustainable production and consumption is a promising way out of this grand challenge. A fundamental shift towards sustainable production and consumption patterns relies on a detailed characterization of material and emission flows between producers, consumers and environmental receptors. Such information, however, is greatly lacking in developing countries for both national and subnational levels.
This study presents an integrated assessment of the interlinkages between energy, pollution and socioeconomic demands in China and its provinces with the thread of production- and consumption-based emissions. The double-digit growth of China’s economy before 2011 and its slow-down in the “new normal” period since then, rapid urbanization and rise of middle income class, and recession in export growth have resulted in dramatic changes in socioeconomic dimensions. It is important to understand how the socioeconomic drivers have evolved and fuelled the energy consumption and air pollution formation.

Production- and consumption-based accounting approaches provide two distinct yet complementary angles to understand the nexus of socioeconomic demands, energy and pollution. This study develops an integrated assessment framework to depict material and emission flows between producers, consumers and environmental receptors. A four-stage research framework is proposed. It starts from the compilation of a primary energy consumption matrix, followed by the establishment of production-based inventories of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Energy and emission accounts are then connected to socioeconomic accounts through environmentally-extended input-output (EEIO) analysis and decomposition techniques. Socioeconomic drivers that are responsible for energy consumption or emissions can be revealed, including entities such as intermediate sectors and final consumers and macroeconomic factors such as population growth, economic growth, industrial structure, energy intensity and energy mix. Meanwhile, production-based emissions marked by different socioeconomic drivers are fed into environmental modelling tools such as an air quality model. Through environmental models, a vast variety of environmental end-points can be evaluated, including but not limited to the ambient air pollutant concentration, air quality attainment rate, pollution formation regimes and death toll. With the corresponding relationship between production- and consumption-based emissions, socioeconomic demands and environmental consequences can be connected in an explicit and quantitative way.

The proposed framework has been demonstrated at the provincial and national levels in China to advance the understanding of causes and effects of environmental issues in a socioeconomic context. Recognizing the central role of energy consumption in climate and air pollution problems, the production-based patterns of energy consumption in 30 provinces in China and their socioeconomic drivers are first investigated. Energy elasticity (the percentage change in energy consumption to achieve a 1% change in national GDP) in China have decreased continuously from 2003 to 2016. Starting at a level of 1.11 from 2003 to 2007, the energy elasticity dropped to 0.58 from 2007 to 2011, followed by an even lower value of 0.42 from 2011 to 2016. The reduction in the growth of energy consumption is even more prominent at the provincial level. Eight of the provinces saw declines in their total primary consumption from 2011 to 2016. They differed from their counterparts since 2011, when the decreasing effect of energy intensity was enhanced and, for the first time, surpassed or approximated the increasing effect of economic growth. The catching-up was more associated with the significant reduction of energy intensity rather than the slowdown of economic growth. New decreasing factors such as the share of coal and industrial structure change were also emerging to curb the growth. In addition, six provinces have levelled off their total primary consumption and decreased the combined consumption of coal and petroleum. Their driver mechanisms were similar but the share of cleaner fuels, e.g., natural gas and non-fossil fuels, increased significantly. Nevertheless, such declines were demonstrated to be initial rather than structural changes. To secure the trend or fasten transition, one path is to sustain the strong decreasing effect mainly from energy intensity, which is applicable to Hebei, Liaoning, Jilin, Henan, Hubei and Yunnan, whose energy intensities are still high (3.0~5.8 tce/104 $USD in 2016). The other path is to complement energy intensity with new decreasing drivers, which better suits the other provinces which have reached relatively low levels of energy intensity and have less potential for further reduction.

Another two case studies at province levels are conducted. One is to investigate the demands behind air pollutant emissions in a fast developing region in China. Guangdong is a typical fast-developing region with annual GDP growth around 11% and China’s export industry hub. It is beset with air pollution problems featured by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone (O3). This study reveals that the varying trends of air pollutants from 2007 to 2012 were associated with production-based control measures and changes in economic structure and trading patterns. From the consumption perspective, due to the stringent control of SO2 in power plants and key industries, SO2 emissions saw substantial declines, while the less controlled PM10, PM2.5, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) and CO emissions continued to grow. The contributions of the cleaner service sectors to all seven pollutants increased. This increase could be a consequence of the expansion of the service sector, which grew by 41% in terms of its contributions to Guangdong’s GDP in 5 years. Meanwhile, exports accounted for more than 50% of the emissions, but their share had started to decrease for most pollutants except NMVOCs and CO. It suggests that Guangdong is moving towards a cleaner production and consumption pathway. The transformation of the industrial structure and increase in urban demand should help to further reduce emissions while maintaining economic development.

The other case study focuses on CO2 emission in a less developed region in China. The production- and consumption-based characteristics of Tibet's CO2 emissions and its linkages with other regions in China are studied. Results show that the consumption-based CO2 emissions in Tibet (18.8 Mt, similar to Guinea's emissions in 2015) were three times as high as the production-based estimate (6.2 Mt). Tibet displays unique emission patterns with the highest ratio of consumption- to production-based emissions in China, which are more similar with the east developed provinces rather than its counterparts in west China. More than half of Tibet's consumption-based emissions are supported by Qinghai, Hebei, Sichuan, and others, enabled by the Qinghai-Tibet railway that connected Tibet to China's national railway system. High carbon footprint but low life expectancy is found in Tibet, suggesting the emerging need of a more sustainable consumption pathway under the intensifying interregional connections by Belt and Road Initiative.

This study also presents a national study on the nexus of demand-emission-pollution-health. While China has made enormous progress in combatting PM2.5 pollution, its O3 exposure metrics increased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2017. This study investigates the socioeconomic drivers behind the O3 precursor emissions (NMVOCs, NOx and CO) and their effects on O3 formation chemistry, ambient O3 level and mortality. As the world’s factory, goods produced in China for foreign markets lead to an increase of domestic non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs) emissions by 3.5 million tons in 2013; about 13% of the national total or, equivalent to half of emissions from European Union (EU). Export demand driven emissions have mixed impacts on China’s ozone (O3) formation, but they generally contribute about 6~15% of peak O3 levels (6~10 μg/m3) caused by human activities in the coastal area resulting in an estimated 4615 (1514 ~ 7600) premature deaths. By benchmarking emission intensity in China to EU, the export footprint and NMVOCs emissions from the whole production capacity can be reduced by nearly 60% at moderate costs (at an annualized cost equivalent to 0.05% to 0.30% of industrial output). Such efforts will slow down the upward trend of O3 with notable health benefits. For a substantial attenuation of O3 pollution in China, however, concerted actions addressing domestic demands from urban and rural household are in great need.

This PhD study presents an integrated assessment framework and captures how socioeconomic demands in China evolved and acted as driving forces of national and regional energy consumption, air pollutant emissions and pollution formation. In addition to end-of-pipe treatments, the roots of environmental problems need to be understood in socioeconomic context. The booming socioeconomic demands are responsible for the rise of energy consumption and poor air quality, but China as a whole and some of its more developed regions have been under a crucial transition towards sustainable production and consumption while maintaining the prosperity of individual and society. Experiences in China can be mirrored to other developing countries to foster sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Global Development (formerly School of International Development)
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2020 09:28
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2020 09:28


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