beijing skyline

Chinese cities lead the way on emission reduction, study finds

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Thirty-eight Chinese cities have reduced their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions despite growing economies and populations for at least five years, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham found that a further 21 cities have cut CO2 emissions as their economies or populations have ‘declined’ over the same period - defined as passively emission-declined cities.

‘Emission peaked’ cities, such as Beijing, achieved emission decline mainly due to efficiency improvements and structural changes in energy use, whilst ‘declining’ cities, such as Fuxin (Liaoning province) and Shenyang (Liaoning province), are likely to have reduced emissions due to economic recession or population loss.

The study suggests that emission targets for cities needs to be set individually considering their resources, industrialisation levels, socio-economic characteristics and development goals.

Super-emitting cities with outdated technologies and lower production efficiency should develop stringent policies and targets for emissions reduction, while less developed regions could have more emission space for economic development.

The study analysed the comprehensive CO2 emission inventories of 287 Chinese cities from 2001 to 2019.

Dr Yuli Shan, first author of the study, said: “The experiences and lessons learned from those 59 Chinese cities which have reduced their CO2 emissions cities can be used as benchmarks for other cities. The achievements of these cities are notable for countries around the globe, as China is the world’s most significant emitter of CO2.

“The impact of emission drivers varies among these cities. Growing cities which have reduced emissions should lead in setting precedents for China to reach the dual-carbon goals of achieving carbon emission peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.”

The scientists recommend that ‘declining’ cities with reduced emissions must account for the savings created by a recessive economy; exhausted natural resources; insufficient competitiveness of industry, and even shrinking population, rather than vigorously promoting low-carbon actions.

Prof. Klaus Hubacek, one of the co-authors from the University of Groningen, comments: “Cities often struggle with economic decline and dwindling resources, but at the same time need to keep an eye on mitigation goals and look for synergies to achieve the energy and resource transition.”

Corresponding author and founder of the China Emissions and Accounts Dataset (CEADs) Professor Dabo Guan, from Tsinghua University, said: “It is not easy to reduce every ton of emissions and the reduction strategy must be individualised. China is playing an increasing role in global climate change mitigation and local authorities need more city-specific information on the emissions trends and patterns when designing low-carbon policies.”

The researchers note that cities are at the heart of climate change mitigation, with emission and development hotspots with urban economic activity accounting for 80 per cent of global GDP; 60-80 per cent of energy consumption, and 75 per cent of carbon emissions. However, cities also have the administrative capacity to carry out targeted emission reduction measures.

Although more than 500 cities worldwide have committed to low-carbon and carbon neutrality goals, agreement is still lacking on how to best account for emissions and achieve decarbonisation at the city level, the researchers added.

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