Product level embodied carbon flows in bilateral trade

Ecological Economics, Vol 105, September 2014, Pages 106–117


As increasingly complex modelling approaches to quantifying embodied carbon in trade have become popular, the lack of disaggregation has been identified as a key weakness. This paper quantifies embodied carbon in bilateral trade at the product level. This is done using the material balance approach, by collecting product carbon intensity factors from multiple data sources and combining with bilateral trade data in physical quantities. The dataset covers trades between 195 countries for 1080 products in 2006. The detailed mapping of trade embodied carbon provides detailed insights into the nature of the flows that were previously masked or under-reported. For example, it finds that the lion’s share of global trade embodied emissions are concentrated in a relatively small number of product categories of traded goods, suggesting that focusing mitigation efforts and trade-measures on these products would be an effective strategy to address potential carbon leakage, and to decarbonise international supply chains. The results also highlight that embodied carbon is focused in regional trade, thus regional harmonisation of climate mitigation policy will be effective in mitigating leakage.