This study investigated the driving factors of embodied carbon emission changes in manufacturing trades through structural decomposition analysis. For empirical analysis, we developed an environmental multiregional input–output model for Korea, Japan, and China for 1995–2009. The three countries, which are economically and environmentally significant in Asia, are not only tightly linked economically through global value chains, but also close geographically, sharing various environmental issues. The results show that China is a net exporter of embodied carbon emissions to Japan and Korea, despite a substantial trade deficit. Its exports are more carbon-intensive than its imports from Japan and Korea. China’s embodied emissions were mainly affected by a change in carbon-intensive production and trade structure, and Japan’s and Korea’s were affected by China’s final demand. At the sectoral level, “Electrical and Optical Equipment”, “Basic Metals and Fabricated Metal”, and “Textiles and Textile Products” mainly affected the embodied carbon emission changes in these three countries. As a result, a considerable share of carbon-intensive production has shifted to China and increased consumption of China’s final products and services in the manufacturing industries, resulting in a significant increase in embodied carbon emissions. Additionally, our findings at the sectoral level could provide important evidence regarding the effective environmental policies that enable sustainable industries. With the increasing interest in the embodied carbon emissions, future research would pay more attention to the bilateral trades of major carbon-emitting countries and multilateral trades.
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