China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from characteristics and growth of cities


China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or sooner under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C or less by the end of the century. By examining CO2 emissions from 50 Chinese cities over the period 2000–2016, we found a close relationship between per capita emissions and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for individual cities, following the environmental Kuznets curve, despite diverse trajectories for CO2 emissions across the cities. Results show that carbon emissions peak for most cities at a per capita GDP (in 2011 purchasing power parity) of around US$21,000 (80% confidence interval: US$19,000 to 22,000). Applying a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the peak of per capita emissions using a Kuznets function based on China’s historical emissions, we project that emissions for China should peak at 13–16 GtCO2 yr−1 between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 yr ahead of the current Paris target of 2030. We show that the challenges faced by individual types of Chinese cities in realizing low-carbon development differ significantly depending on economic structure, urban form and geographical location.

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Fig. 1: CO2 emissions and trends of 50 Chinese cities from 2000 to 2016.
Fig. 2: Per capita CO2 emissions of the 50 Chinese cities in 2010.
Fig. 3: The relationship between annual per capita GDP and CO2 emissions for China.

Data availability

Details on the methodology and data for estimating CO2 emissions of 50 Chinese cities are summarized in the Supplementary Information, and any other datasets generated during this study are available upon request from the corresponding authors.


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This study was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0600204), National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC) (41371528, 71433007, 71690244), IGSNRR and Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2019055) and the Harvard Global Institute of Harvard University.

Author information




H.W. conceived and led the research. H.W., X.L. and J.B. designed the paper. Y.S., Y.D. and H.W. calculated emissions. Y.L., G.Z. and M.B. performed emission trends analysis. H.W., X.L., Y.D. and C.P.N. interpreted the data. H.W., X.L., C.P.N. and M.B.M. drew conclusions and wrote the paper with input from all co-authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Haikun Wang or Jun Bi.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–8, Figs. 1–9, methods and references.

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Wang, H., Lu, X., Deng, Y. et al. China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from characteristics and growth of cities. Nat Sustain 2, 748–754 (2019).

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