Decoupling of economic growth from CO2 emissions in Yangtze River Economic Belt cities

Kejun Li, Ya Zhou*, Huijuan Xiao, Zeng Li, Yuli Shan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cities play significant roles in mitigating global climate change and formulating low carbon roadmaps. As the first regional strategy that prioritizes green development, the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB) is an economic circle along the Yangtze River, stringing up 11 provinces and municipalities from west to east of China. The huge regional heterogeneity in terms of economic development, size, and structure in YREB cities need differentiated emission reduction strategies and low-carbon development pathways. This study compiled the CO2 emission inventories of 85 cities in the YREB for the first time and explored the decoupling of economic growth from CO2 emissions at the city level. The results show that CO2 emissions of YREB cities increased at an annual average rate of 5.1% from 2005 to 2017, and 85 YREB cities emitted 44% of national total CO2 emissions and contributed 41% of national GDP in 2017. 61% of cities dominated by high-tech and service industry achieved decoupling between economic development and emissions before 2009 and are moving forward to a stronger decoupling state. 25% of cities achieved decoupling after 2009 and these post-decoupling cities took the heavy industry and light industry as their leading industries. Resource-based cities with slow economic development and high CO2 emissions changed from decoupling to negative decoupling or coupling. The proposed differentiated low-carbon development pathways for YREB cities could provide references for cities at different stages to achieve decoupling of GDP from CO2 emissions and emission reduction goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145927
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date18 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021


  • Yangtze River Economic Belt
  • CO2
  • emissions
  • Decoupling
  • Low-carbon development pathways
  • Cities


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