By outsourcing manufacturing to China - sending jobs Americans don't want, according to immigration experts - America is also outsourcing carbon dioxide emissions.

China is now doing the same thing, but to themselves. Coastal provinces are outsourcing emissions to poorer provinces in the interior, according to U.C. Irvine scholar Steve Davis and colleagues in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper.

Beijing and Shanghai import steel, heavy industrial equipment and other materials from provinces like Inner Mongolia, where highly polluting manufacturing facilities produce the raw goods. The authors say that up to 80 percent of emissions related to items consumed in the coastal provinces are actually released skyward in the less developed provinces in central and western China. 

China's province-specific pollution abatement targets, negotiated in 2009 as part of the Copenhagen Accord to cut the carbon dioxide emissions causing global climate change, are likely to encourage even more of this type of domestic outsourcing, because the less developed heartland is not required to cut as much of the dangerous greenhouse gas.

"This is regrettable, because the cheapest and easiest reductions – the low-hanging fruit – are in the interior provinces, where modest technological improvements could make a huge difference in emissions," said Davis, a UC Irvine Earth system scientist and attorney specializing in climate policy. "Richer areas currently have much tougher targets, so it's easier for them to just buy goods made elsewhere. A nationwide target that tracks emissions embodied in trade would go a long way toward solving the problem. But that's not what's happening."

They got their research data from a variety of sources at the University of Maryland, the University of London, Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the University of Leeds, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Cambridge and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. They tracked carbon emissions related to goods both within China and internationally using a global model of 129 regions, including 107 individual countries and 57 industry sectors. China was then broken down into 30 subregions comprising 26 provinces and four cities.

"As the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, China is a prominent and important example, struggling to balance rapid economic growth and environmental sustainability across provinces that are in very different stages of development," the authors conclude.