EGU22-3119, updated on 27 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Distinguishing Capital Investment and Consumption of Material Footprint: A Comparative Analysis between Subnational China and Other Nations

Meng Jiang1,2, Paul Behrens3,4, Yongheng Yang5, Zhipeng Tang6, Dingjiang Chen2,7, Yadong Yu8, Lin Liu2, Pu Gong5, Shengjun Zhu9, Wenji Zhou10, Edgar Hertwich1, Bing Zhu2,7,11, and Arnold Tukker3,12
Meng Jiang et al.
  • 1Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Trondheim, Norway (
  • 2Tsinghua University, Department of Chemical Engineering, Beijing, China
  • 3Leiden University, Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), The Netherlands
  • 4Leiden University College, The Hague, The Netherlands
  • 5Tsinghua University, School of Public Policy and Management, Beijing, China
  • 6Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Beijing, China
  • 7Tsinghua University, Institute for Circular Economy, Beijing, China
  • 8East China University of Science and Technology, School of Business, Shanghai, China
  • 9Peking University, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 10School of Applied Economics, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
  • 11International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Energy, Climate, and Environment Program, Laxenburg, Austria
  • 12The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO, Den Haag, The Netherlands

Economic prosperity is vital to human development, but heavy reliance on material extraction leads to environmental degradation. To successfully decouple growth from degradation, the main drivers of material footprint (MF) must be identified. Here, we focus on MFs in Chinese provinces as well as emerging economies in a global context. We employ a local-global input-output model that considers trade and classified investment/consumption to evaluate the relationship between MF and the Human Development Index (HDI). The results show that China's growing MFs exhibit different development trajectories. While GDP and Human Development Index (HDI) are generally correlated with MFs, some low-income provinces in China have higher MFs per capita than some affluent provinces and advanced economies. We find that capital investments related to buildings, infrastructure, and equipment in China explain the complexity. To explain this further, we distinguish between consumption-driven and investment-driven MFs. We demonstrate the different roles of consumption and investment in the physical economy. An interesting finding is that consumption-driven MFs are generally associated with HDI across Chinese provinces and countries, but investment-driven MFs are not. Such trends are also observed in some developing economies. Capital investment shapes the different trajectories of MFs in rapidly industrializing economies. Given the large infrastructure gaps in emerging economies and post-pandemic investment plans, these underline the need to consider the broader sustainability implications of future investment plans. The concept that investigating different roles of investment- and consumption-associated footprint in input-output framework suggests that modeling future MFs, especially in rapidly industrializing countries, requires a more sophisticated framework. Taking capital investment and stocks formation into the general modeling is important. We conclude by asking two open questions: (1) Does the development of consumption-driven and investment-driven MFs across countries follow a paradigm where the early process of development is high-infrastructure MFs, and then shifts to higher consumption MFs as capital stocks build up? (2) How much investment does an economy need to maintain healthy and green growth?

How to cite: Jiang, M., Behrens, P., Yang, Y., Tang, Z., Chen, D., Yu, Y., Liu, L., Gong, P., Zhu, S., Zhou, W., Hertwich, E., Zhu, B., and Tukker, A.: Distinguishing Capital Investment and Consumption of Material Footprint: A Comparative Analysis between Subnational China and Other Nations, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-3119,, 2022.

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