The Greenness of China: 

Household Carbon Emissions and Urban Development

In China, households generate less than 20% of total carbon emissions in the country, while it is 40% in the US. When China transfer from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, this percentage will increase.

By estimating the carbon dioxide emissions of a standardized household, we are able to answer: 

“if a household moved from city A to city B, would total carbon emissions rise or fall?”


We calculated the total carbon emissions in 74 cities in China
(please refer to the paper for the detailed estimation methods).


Check out household CO2 emissions by city:

Our results indicate that the ‘cleanest’ cities based are Huaian and Suqian while the ‘dirtiest’ cities are Daqing and Mudanjiang. Even in the dirtiest city (Daqing), a standardized household only produces one-fifth of the emissions produced in America’s cleanest city (San Diego).


We find that richer cities have significantly higher household carbon emissions. One possible explanation is that richer cities may have invested more in infrastructure that encourages energy use. In China, carbon emissions are particularly high in places during cold January's, possibly because of government-provided centralized home heating.


The cross-city relationship between winter temperature and household carbon emissions.

Unlike the US, China’s government pursues a well-defined set of regional development strategies. If successful, these efforts will impact carbon emissions of the targeted regions and the whole country.

The potential consequences of 

China’s regional development programs

As an initial attempt to assess the carbon production consequences of China's regional development programs, we calculated regional household carbon emissions factors by taking population-weighted averages of our urban household carbon production measures.


We also predicted per-household carbon emissions in 2026.

On average, per-household carbon emission will grow by a mere 26% from 2006 to 2026. Combined with the projected 40% increase in urban population, a richer China in 2026 will have a modest 76% increase in its GHG emissions from urban households (assuming constant average household size and the same infrastructure and urban form from 2006).


Siqi Zheng

MIT China Future City Lab, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 

Center for Real Estate

Rui Wang

Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles


Edward Glaeser

Department of Economics, Harvard University


Matthew Kahn

Department of Economics, USC and NBE


Web and Visuals

Siqi Zheng, Rui Wang, Edward L. Glaeser and Matthew E. Kahn. “The Greenness of China: Household Carbon Emissions and Urban Development”, Journal of Economic Geography, 2011, 11: 761-792.

Zan Yang, Ying Fan and Siqi Zheng. “Determinants of household carbon emissions: Pathway toward eco-community in Beijing”, Habitat International, 2016, 57 : 175-186. 

Icons from

The material on this website can be used freely. We just ask that it is duly credited as a project by MIT China Future City Lab, and a PDF is sent to