Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 31, pp 32446–32459 | Cite as

Configurational conditions of national carbon intensity: a fuzzy set analysis of 136 countries

  • Yimin MaoEmail author
Research Article


Drawing on the insights from the literature in environmental economics and politics, this study examines the configurational conditions of national carbon intensity by constructing a new analytical framework integrating six factors, i.e. population, affluence, industrial structure, energy intensity, urbanization rate and democracy. A fuzzy set analysis of 136 countries shows that national carbon intensity is not determined by any single factor but rather by the combined effects of multiple factors. There are two configurational pathways to low-carbon development while four pathways to high-carbon development, each with its own configuration. Low-carbon development occurs most often in those affluent, highly urbanized and democratic countries with low intensity of energy use, while high-carbon development is most likely in those small, poor countries with high intensity of energy use. This study also shows that the role of particular factor should be understood in the context as its combinations with different sets of other factors may produce opposite effects on national carbon intensity. That is, the policy efforts concentrated on single factor may be ineffective to reduce carbon intensity. These findings permit a more contextualized and systematic understanding of the determinants of national carbon intensity.


Carbon intensity Configurational conditions Qualitative comparative analysis Cross-national data 



The author thanks two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.

Funding information

This work was supported by the China National Social Science Foundation (No. 18CZZ023).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AdministrationZhejiang Gongshang UniversityHangzhouChina

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