Not All Emissions Are Created Equal
Global climate change is among the greatest crises facing humanity in the 21st century. Mitigating the impacts of climate change requires a substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Despite the urgency, climate actions are lacking in many nations. A rich body of cross-national research on human drivers of emissions is devoted to identifying effective leverage points for emission abatement, which primarily focuses on aggregate emission measures such as production-based accounts and consumption-based accounts. However, a nation’s carbon-emitting activities are not monolithic, but can instead be classified into distinct components based on important characteristics such as the supply chain stage to which they belong. These emission components likely have heterogeneous relationships with certain anthropogenic drivers or mitigation measures. Yet, analyses using aggregate emission measures are unable to detect such heterogeneity or inform the unique strategy that might be required to effectively mitigate each emission component. I address this gap using the three empirical chapters of this dissertation. In the first empirical chapter, I propose an analytical framework of Multidimensional Emissions Profile (MEP), which situates nations’ contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions into four distinct components: (1) emissions generated by domestic-oriented supply chain activities; (2) emissions embodied in imports; (3) emissions embodied in exports; and (4) direct emissions of end user activities. I then apply the MEP framework to analyze the relationships between national affluence and the four emission components for 34 high-income nations. I find that as these nations grow wealthier, affluence is increasingly decoupled from direct emissions of end user activities but remains positively associated with the other three emission components in various ways. The findings suggest that emission-suppressing mechanisms associated with growing affluence are effective in mitigating direct end user emissions—typically the smallest component—but not the other three emission components. Therefore, high-income nations should prioritize mitigating emissions generated by supply chain activities outside the end use stage. The second empirical chapter is an examination of how renewable energy deployment is related to these emission components in high-income nations. I find that renewable energy deployment mitigates emissions by domestic-oriented supply chain activities, and with increasing effectiveness over time; yet it remains ineffective in curbing the other three emission components, indicating the existence of structural barriers that prevent the decarbonization effect of renewables from spilling over to these three emission components. These barriers must be overcome in order to achieve the full decarbonization potential of renewable energy deployment. In the third empirical chapter, I investigate the time-varying relationships between domestic income inequality and the four emission components, in order to unpack the multiple pathways linking income inequality to emissions. The results suggest that the relationships change over time, vary across emission components, and differ between measures of income inequality, which indicate variations in the causal pathways, both over time and across emission components. The findings from all three empirical chapters support the validity of the MEP framework. The relationships between greenhouse gas emissions and national affluence, renewable energy deployment, and domestic income inequality are multidimensional: these anthropogenic forces curb some emission components but spur others. Climate policies targeting these anthropogenic forces should optimize their decarbonization benefits while neutralizing the mechanisms through which they drive growth in emissions.