Determining differences in regional carbon emissions and the factors that affect these differences is important in the realization of differentiated emissions mitigation policies. This paper adopts the Theil index and the partial least square-variable importance of projection (PLS-VIP) method to analyze the change characteristics, regional differences and causes of carbon emissions, as well as the extent to which various factors influenced carbon emissions in China’s eight economic regions in 2005–2017. The results indicate that (1) during the study period, carbon emissions in the eight economic regions displayed a rigid uptrend with a phased characteristic. The growth rates of carbon emissions were different across the studied regions. (2) The overall difference in regional carbon emissions showed an increasing trend, mainly owing to increasing interregional differences. (3) The extent of the influence and explanatory ability of each factor on regional carbon emissions and discrepancies in carbon emissions were different. Population size, economic development, and energy intensity were found to be the three main factors influencing regional carbon emission changes. Industrial structure and urbanization were also contributors to regional differences in emissions. The influence of energy structure on regional carbon emissions and its explanatory power were weak on the whole, but its elastic coefficients and VIP values changed significantly. Finally, regionally targeted proposals for emissions mitigation are offered.
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