Jun Li, Curtin University, Perth, Australia

Wei Zhou, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

Meriem Hamdi-Cherif, CIRED, Paris, France

Presentation Title: Urban population change and its implications for energy demand and carbon emissions in China: an integrated analysis




Demographic change has significant impacts on a country's long-term growth trajectory through savings, consumption and labor market channels. Changes in the population including aging, decreasing family size, migration and urbanization may significantly affect growth prospects for fast-growing developing countries like China. This study analyzed the challenge of environmental sustainability resulting from population and lifestyle changes in different socio-economic groups in China based on a quantitative analysis within an integrated assessment framework. Both co-integration and instrumental variables methodologies were applied to assess the consequences of demographic change and  implications for energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions since the economic reforms commencing in the late 1970s. The empirical findings document that urbanization, changes in population and consumption behavior have contributed significantly to increased carbon emissions. The results are highly significant for policymakers who must adopt new policies to mitigate China's present and future environmental problems.

Key Lessons Learned

  • There is a complex interaction between urbanization, household structure, lifestyle change, consumption behavior and environmental impacts in terms of carbon emissions.Population growth is found to be a significant influence shaping the behavior of carbon emissions change in China over the past three decades.  
  • Urbanization is found to contribute to per capita carbon emissions across all models.
  • Extended life expectancy coupled with population ageing will drive per capita carbon emissions growth upwards, suggesting that the Chinese society has moved towards a more carbon intensive lifestyle, in particular younger generations.
  • Fertility is a positive force on per capita carbon emissions, i.e., higher fertility rates lead to higher per head carbon emissions, suggesting that China’s one-child policy has slowed per capita carbon emissions growth.
  • GDP growth has a strong influence on CO2 emissions, reflecting the effects of higher income and the manufacturing industry’s dominance in China’s economic growth.
  • Open trade has contributed to the growth of carbon emissions as China has become a major destination of outsourced resource-intensive manufacturing in parallel with increased urbanization.

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

  • To understand the interaction and causality between urbanization and environmental impacts, an integrated approach must be adopted by policy makers; the assessment of policy variables should not be conducted in isolation.
  • To address the complex relationship between urban growth and environmental change, the synergy between urban and environmental policies is critical; i.e., sectoral policies need to be articulated to enhance the overall effectiveness, suggesting the importance of cross-sector coordination and governance efficiency.   
  • It is necessary to reconcile micro- and macro-level policies as individual behavioral changes may have considerable impacts in the aggregate, and a linear top-down policy may be inappropriate to address the bifurcation challenge.

Knowledge Gaps and Needs

  • Greater confidence is needed to predict the impacts of individual behavior change on the aggregate shift in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Heterogeneity among agents must be better accounted for in any future framework of studying urbanization and global environmental change.
  • A hybrid approach (linkage between top-down and bottom-up models) which takes into account urban and rural consumption behavior will be useful in advising the long-term urban and environmental policy in developing countries like China.
  • One possible improvement is to embrace an agent-based modelling approach which explicitly integrates individual characteristics in macro-level socio-economic and environmental policy simulations. 


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