26 October 2016

A tale of two cities: Beijing before and after 2000

Options Magazine Winter 2016: When it comes to carbon emissions, Beijing today is a different city than the same city before 2000.

© Hecke01 | Dreamstime.com

© Hecke01 | Dreamstime.com

Around the year 2000 Beijing’s urban and industrial sprawl tipped the city’s carbon sequestration balance from positive to negative. This tale of two cities—pre- and post‑2000 Beijing—is illustrated in work by IIASA researcher Brian Fath, along with Ursula Scharler, Linlin Xia, and Yan Zhang.

Between 1992 and 2008 a fifth of cultivated and more than a quarter of forested land in the Beijing basin was built upon. This carbon‑sink land lost out to the demands of industry, transport, and housing. The result is that now only 2.4% of the city’s carbon emissions are being offset within its boundaries.

“The expansion of transportation led to the expansion of the urban area,” says Linlin Xia referring to rapid development between 1995 and 2000. “This unbalanced the carbon metabolism because of limitations on land available for development.”

The discovery that green areas need protection and that carbon emissions require control came “late” say the researchers. However, they point to the possibility of recovery with Beijing now protecting key ecological zones. “It’s a hard and long‑term task,” says Xia, adding that it’s much better to have a good plan for sustainable city development.

The paper, says Fath, “provides an objective basis for adjusting Beijing’s land use to improve its carbon metabolism and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Text by Kerry Skyring

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Last edited: 30 August 2017


Brian Fath

Senior Research Scholar:YSSP Scientific Coordinator

Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group|Young Scientists Summer Program

T +43(0) 2236 807 605


Xia, L., Fath, B.D. , Scharler, U.M., & Zhang, Y. (2016). Spatial variation in the ecological relationships among the components of Beijing's carbon metabolic system. Science of the Total Environment 544, 103-113. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.11.110.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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