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Urban cross-sector actions for carbon mitigation with local health co-benefits in China


Cities offer unique strategies to reduce fossil fuel use through the exchange of energy and materials across homes, businesses, infrastructure and industries co-located in urban areas. However, the large-scale impact of such strategies has not been quantified. Using new models and data sets representing 637 Chinese cities, we find that such cross-sectoral strategies—enabled by compact urban design and circular economy policies—contribute an additional 15%–36% to national CO2 mitigation, compared to conventional single-sector strategies. As a co-benefit, 25,500 to 57,500 deaths annually are avoided from air pollution reduction. The benefits are highly variable across cities, ranging from <1%–37% for CO2 emission reduction and <1%–47% for avoided premature deaths. These results, using multi-scale, multi-sector physical systems modelling, identify cities with high carbon and health co-benefit potential and show that urban–industrial symbiosis is a significant carbon mitigation strategy, achievable with a combination of existing and advanced technologies in diverse city types.

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Figure 1: Multi-scale modelling of linkages across intra-city, hinterland, provincial, grid region and national scales to assess local health and national CO2 benefits of urban–industrial symbiosis.
Figure 2: National territorial CO2 emissions reduction potential in China disaggregated by single-sector efficiency based on China’s 2010–2015 FYP targets, and cross-sectoral urban–industrial symbiosis interventions, including reuse of heat in current and advanced district energy systems (DES).
Figure 3: Direct CO2 mitigation potential across 637 cities in mainland China.
Figure 4: Carbon mitigation and health co-benefits across 637 cities in mainland China.


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This work was supported by a NSF Partnerships in International Research and Education grant (PIRE-1243535), Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (No. 20121088096), and National Science Foundation of China (21625701). We thank M. Ahern and P. Bourne of Evergreen Energy (Saint Paul, Minnesota) for reviewing the district energy scenarios. We thank H. Shen for reviewing the results of air pollution modelling. We also appreciate G. Chan’s comments on this paper.

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A.R., L.S., M.C., A.F., K.T., Y.L. and D.J. designed the urban energy and material-exchange interventions; R.M.L., A.S.N. and A.G.R. implemented the air pollution and health risk models. A.R., K.T., Y.W., S.W., L.S. and Y.L. developed the city infrastructure database; L.S. and Y.H. developed the China industry waste heat case studies. A.F. and K.T. implemented scenario modelling. A.R. led the writing and data checks, and K.T. led data coordination across nations and graphics.

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Correspondence to Anu Ramaswami.

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Ramaswami, A., Tong, K., Fang, A. et al. Urban cross-sector actions for carbon mitigation with local health co-benefits in China. Nature Clim Change 7, 736–742 (2017).

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