How can rural labor mobility contribute to carbon reduction?

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A new study published in the journal China University of Geosciences (Social Sciences Edition) reveals that the movement of rural workers to secondary and tertiary industries has promoted carbon reduction in China’s agricultural sector over the past two decades.

With the advancement of agricultural mechanization and the division of labor, the number of people working in agriculture has dropped dramatically from 360 million in 2000 to 170 million in 2021.

“This reduction in the agricultural workforce has accelerated mechanization and improved production efficiency, thereby helping decrease carbon emission intensity,” explains lead author Tian Yun from the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.

Using data on 30 provinces gathered between 2005 and 2020, the study empirically tests the impact of the movement of rural workers on agricultural carbon emissions. The results show that it has a significant inhibiting effect, reducing emissions by 10 percent through changing planting structures with less grain crops.

However, the effect varies across regions. It’s more pronounced in central and eastern provinces than in the less developed west. Between major grain production areas, the impact is greater in the Yellow River basin than in the Yangtze and Songhua river basins.