Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 74 ›› Issue (10): 2062-2077.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201910008

• Rural Revitalization and Regional Development • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Construction of an emergy and exergy coupling model for the analysis of regional sustainable development capability

FAN Xingang1,2,ZHONG Juntao3,YANG Meiling4,WEN Qi4,MA Zhenning4,MI Wenbao4()   

  1. 1. Research Center for Western Development, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
    2. School of Economics and Management, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
    3. School of Geography Science, Qinghai Normal University, Xining 810016, China
    4. School of Resources and Environment, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
  • Received:2018-06-11 Revised:2019-05-05 Online:2019-10-25 Published:2019-10-29
  • Contact: MI Wenbao
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(No.41761116);Natural Science Foundation of Ningxia(No.NZ17027)


Methods for the evaluation of sustainable development capability are important and highly sought after tools for identifying the synergistic relationship between humans and the environment and guiding scientific decision-making for the implementation of ecological and environmental protection measures. Compared to traditional methods such as ecological footprint, environmental sustainability index, and human development index, emergy analysis and exergy analysis result in smaller errors and are more objective. These two methods can directly convert materials and services into energy units, without evaluation indicators and weight settings, and do not require raw dimensionless data. Exploring the coupling of emergy analysis and exergy analysis can provide a new perspective on and method for the analysis of regional sustainable development capabilities. Based on a literature review, a theoretical analysis framework was constructed. This study proposes an emergy and exergy coupling model for the analysis of sustainable development capability based on a thermodynamic theory. This analytical model has three indices, namely, self-organizing capability index (SO), ecological pressure index (EP), and sustainable development capability index (SC). The emergy and exergy input and output values of 17 typical developed countries in 1985 were screened via meta-analysis to calculate the SO and EP thresholds of the model, based on which sustainable development capability was divided into four stages. The model was tested via a comparative analysis of the sustainable development capability of China and the USA in 1985-2015. The results show that China was in the low self-organizing capacity and low ecological pressure stage before 2005. After 2005, it entered the low self-organizing capability and high ecological pressure stage. It has had low eco-efficiency and scale expansion driving characteristics. The USA is always in the high self-organizing capacity and high ecological pressure stage, and is characterized by high ecological efficiency, and economic and ecological decoupling. These results are consistent with the findings of the World Ecological Footprint Network and World Wildlife Fund, indicating that the proposed model is adaptive and reliable. In addition, the study results indicate that this model can express the ecological efficiency of an economic and social system in terms of "total annual exergy amount used/annual emergy input amount". Moreover, it can express the ecological pressure as "annual exergy loss of an economic and social system/annual eco-exergy produced by an ecosystem." This model connects the entropy path of an economic and social system to the ecosystem. Furthermore, it can identify sustainable development stage and analyze changes in sustainable development level and factors driving these changes. From an anthropological and ecological perspective, the model expresses the ecological efficiency of an economic and social system, evaluates the proportion of ecological space occupied, and can combine macroscopic scale with microscopic efficiency analysis, which is an improvement over conventional methods.

Key words: sustainable development capacity, self-organizing capability, ecological pressure, emergy, exergy, coupling model