With increasing concerns over climate change and the global consensus regarding low carbon growth, the transition of resource-based regions has become urgent and challenging. We employ a Slacks-Based Measure with windows analysis approach to estimate the carbon emissions efficiency and abatement potential of China's provinces over the period of 2003–2016. A panel Tobit model is further employed to analyze the direct and indirect effects of natural resource abundance on emissions efficiency. We find that: (1) There exists a negative correlation between resource abundance and carbon emissions efficiency. The more abundant the resources, the lower the emissions efficiency. (2) Although emissions efficiency and abatement potential are generally negatively correlated, abatement potential also depends on the scale of the economy. (3) Resource dependence is unfavourable for the rationalization and advancement of the industrial structure, which indirectly affects the carbon emissions efficiency. These findings imply that resource-based regions should make the improvement of emissions efficiency and the exploration of abatement potential as their top priority of actions for a low-carbon transition, and promote the transformation of industrial structure in order to obtain a double dividend in sustainable development and carbon emissions efficiency.