Supply chain sustainability

What’s the Embodied Carbon in the U.S.-China Trade?

Authors: Ali Hasanbeigi, Daniel Moran

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President Donald Trump has just signed an executive order to levy tariffs on a wide range of Chinese products worth an estimated $50 billion. This will certainly have major trade implications not only between China and the U.S., but globally. Perhaps, that’s why a major sell-off is happening in global stock markets. We thought to take this opportunity to look at it from climate change perspective. Do you know what’s the embodied carbon in the trade between the U.S. and China?

In our recent study on Embodied Carbon in Globally Traded Goods funded by the ClimateWorks Foundation, Global Efficiency Intelligence, LLC. and KGM & Associate Ltd. used the most recent available data and a cutting-edge model (Eora MRIO) to conduct a global assessment of the extent of the embodied carbon in globally traded goods, so-called carbon loophole.

The graph below highlights our finding related to embodied carbon in the trade between U.S. and China in 2015. As it is illustrated, the embodied carbon in goods that U.S. imports from China is around 502 million ton of CO2, while the embodied carbon in goods China imports from the U.S. is around 67 million ton of CO2. Therefore, the net import of embodied carbon by the U.S. from China is around 435 million ton of CO2.

To put this number in perspective, the entire GHG emissions in California (the 5th largest economy in the world) in 2015 was 440 million ton of CO2.

Source: KGM & Associate and Global Efficiency Intelligence analysis   Figure. Embodied Carbon in the U.S.-China Trade in 2015 (Million ton CO2)

Source: KGM & Associate and Global Efficiency Intelligence analysis

Figure. Embodied Carbon in the U.S.-China Trade in 2015 (Million ton CO2)

It is hard, however, to quantify the carbon implication of this new U.S. tariff on imports from China without knowing the exact list of products affected and how the tariff will change the trade balance between the U.S. and China.

A tool like the U.S. tariff on imports could be good for the climate and the economy if it was based on the carbon footprint of the goods imported and was not just implemented as a blanket tariff. In fact, California recently passed the Buy Clean legislation (AB 262), which calls for the state to create rules for the procurement of infrastructure materials (steel, glass, etc.) purchased with state funds that take into account pollution levels during production. This could be an example of environmental- and climate-friendly procurement and trade tariffs that level the playing field and can benefit both industry and the environment and incentivize high polluting companies that are out-of-state or out-of-country to clean up their production in order to be able to trade with these states or countries.

Our study on Embodied Carbon of Globally Traded Goods which includes results for trade between other countries and regions of the world will be published in April 2018.

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Also read our related blog posts:


Infographic: The Embodied Carbon in Global Steel and Cement Trade

Authors: Ali Hasanbeigi, Daniel Moran, Prodipto Roy

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President Trump just signed an executive order to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports to the U.S. While many people are discussing how this can lead to a trade war between certain nations, we decided to take a look at it through the lens of embodied carbon in traded goods.

The UNFCCC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting system works on the basis of national production rather than consumption of emissions. This means that when goods are traded, their embodied emissions (e.g. emissions associated with manufacture) are also traded. However, these imported emissions are not counted towards a country’s reported climate impacts. It is estimated that around 25% of global CO2 emissions comprise goods and services which have been internationally traded.

In the recent study on Embodied Carbon in Globally Traded Goods funded by the ClimateWorks Foundation, Global Efficiency Intelligence, LLC. and KGM & Associate Ltd. use the most recent available data and a cutting-edge model to conduct a global assessment of the extent of the embodied carbon in globally traded goods, so-called carbon loophole. In addition, we have conducted a series of higher-resolution, deeper dive case studies into a few key sectors and geographies of most importance, including steel and cement.

The infographic below summarizes some of our key findings related to deep-dive analysis we conducted for embodied carbon in global steel and cement trade. As it is illustrated, steel trade accounts for a significant amount of embodied carbon in trade. Even though China doesn’t feature in the top three steel import sources for the United States (Canada, Brazil, and South Korea occupy the top three spots), China still accounts for 40% of carbon embodied in the global commodity steel extra-regional trade, and 27% of carbon embodied in overall commodity steel trade.

One of the frustrations of U.S. steelmakers, which led to their support of the U.S. tariff, was China systematically overproducing subsidized steel and flooding the international markets. Furthermore, many steel manufacturers in China and other steel exporting countries like the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) produce a comparable unit of steel using significantly more carbon and energy than their cleaner counterparts in their own country or region. We see this disparity of carbon use in production not only in countries like China but also within different states in the U.S.

A tool like the U.S. tariff on steel imports could be good for the climate and the economy if it was based on the carbon footprint of the steel imported and was not just implemented as a blanket tariff. In fact, California recently passed the Buy Clean legislation (AB 262), which calls for the state to create rules for the procurement of infrastructure materials (including steel) purchased with state funds that take into account pollution levels during production. This could be an example of environmental- and climate-friendly procurement and trade tariffs that level the playing field and can benefit both industry and the environment and incentivize high polluting companies that are out-of-state or out-of-country to clean up their production in order to be able to trade with these states or countries.

The study on Embodied Carbon of Globally Traded Goods will be published in September 2018.

Don't forget to Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to get the latest about our new blog posts, projects, and publications.

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Infographic: Textile and Apparel Industry’s Energy and Water Consumption and Pollutions Profile

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Although the textile and apparel industry is not considered an energy-intensive industry, it comprises a large number of plants that, together, consume a significant amount of energy which result in substantial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions too. 



The textile and apparel industry and especially textile wet-processing is one of the largest consumers of water in manufacturing and also one of the main producers of industrial wastewater. Since various chemicals are used in different textile processes like pre-treatment, dyeing, printing, and finishing, the textile wastewater contains many toxic chemicals which if not treated properly before discharging to the environment, can cause serious environmental damage.

With global population growth and the emergence of fast fashion, the worldwide textile and apparel production are increasing rapidly. In 2014, an average consumer bought 60% more clothing compared to that in 2000, but kept each garment only half as long.

The Infographic below shows the Textile and Clothing Industry’s Energy and Water Consumption and Pollutions Profile.

Don't forget to Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to get the latest about our new blog posts, projects, and publications. Also see below our related publications and tools.

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Some of our related publications and tools are:

1.     Hasanbeigi, Ali; Price, Lynn; (2015). A Technical Review of Emerging Technologies for Energy and Water Efficiency and Pollution Reduction in the Textile Industry. Journal of Cleaner Production. 

2.   Hasanbeigi, Ali (2013). Emerging Technologies for an Energy-Efficient, Water-Efficient, and Low-Pollution Textile Industry. Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. LBNL-6510E

3.     Hasanbeigi, Ali; Hasanabadi, Abdollah; Abdolrazaghi, Mohamad, (2012). Energy Intensity Analysis for Five Major Sub-Sectors of the Textile Industry. Journal of Cleaner Production 23 (2012) 186-194

4.     Hasanbeigi, Ali; Price, Lynn (2012). A Review of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Technologies for the Textile Industry. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16 (2012) 3648– 3665.

5.    Also, you can check out the Energy Efficiency Assessment and Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Tool for the Textile Industry (EAGER Textile), which I developed a few years ago while still working at LBNL. EAGER Textile tool allows users to conduct a simple techno-economic analysis to evaluate the impact of selected energy efficiency measures in a textile plant by choosing the measures that they would likely introduce in a facility, or would like to evaluate for potential use.


Quantifying The Embodied Carbon Of Traded Goods

Author: Ali Hasanbeigi, Ph.D.

Globalization has resulted in substantial increase in global trade of goods and services across countries around the world. Often, goods are produced in developing countries where labor cost is lower, and developed countries are often net importers.

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The UNFCCC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting system works on the basis of national production rather than consumption of emissions. This means that when goods are traded, their embodied emissions (e.g. emissions associated with manufacture) are also traded. However, these imported emissions are not counted towards a country’s reported climate impacts. It is estimated that around 22% of global CO2 emissions comprise goods and services which have been internationally traded. Better understanding and providing solutions to address the embodied carbon of traded goods will be critical in global and national efforts to decarbonize industry. In addition, large and multinational companies are paying more attention to the energy and carbon footprint of their supply chain. Also, with higher consumer awareness, end users of products are also paying increasing attention to energy and carbon footprint of the goods they use.

Global Efficiency Intelligence, LLC. has partnered with the ClimateWorks Foundation and KGM & Associate Ltd. to use the most recent available data and a cutting-edge model to conduct a global assessment of the extent of the embodied carbon in globally traded goods, so-called carbon loophole. In addition, we will conduct a series of higher-resolution, deeper dive case studies into a few key sectors and geographies of most importance.

The report of this study is expected to be published in the spring of 2018.

Don't forget to Follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook to get the latest about our new blog posts, projects, and publications.