Investigating Urban Population growth and CO2 Emissions from 1960-2013

Question that you are considering Is there a relationship between Urbanization and Total CO2 emissions?

Background information related to this question

I was wondering if urban areas produce more emissions than rural areas.  It is easy to correlate total population to total emissions, because more people means more people are emitting.  I was interested in the details about what types of population growth may be correlated to CO2 emissions.  Urbanization tends create an increase in industrialization, which is what sparked my interest.  Furthermore, agriculture is predominantly in rural areas, therefore urbanization means more people live further away from their food sources, leading to the emission costs of transportation.  Urbanization is also related to economic growth, and economic growth is related to increasing carbon emissions (Liddle, 2013). However, urbanization could also lead to lower levels of emissions due to efficiency in providing energy to large amounts of people, so it’s a double edged sword. (Liddle, 2013).

  •      Discussion

Previous research shows that urbanization seems to be positively correlated to carbon emissions, which this data also shows (Liddle, 2017).

The largest bubble that is furthest right is China, followed by India. Followed by U.S.  As Urban Population has increased, so has cumulative CO2 emissions for countries, however, you can tell overall population is also increasing due to larger bubble sizes by 2013.  Therefore, it is difficult to tell if the correlation is between urban population growth over time, or population over time. China’s and India’s urban populations have increased rapidly, but their total populations have also increased significantly.  The regions that appear to have the highest level of carbon emissions, population, and urban population per country seem to be Asia, the Americas, followed by European countries.  While it is difficult to discern if carbon emission levels are related to urbanization over the time scale of 1960 and 2013, between 1990 and 2013 population sizes of the leading countries in population, urbanization and carbon emissions continue to increase in urban population and emissions, while total populations does not change as dramatically.  This is easiest to see in the top 6 leading countries, China, followed by India, then the U.S. than brazil Russia and Japan (and Indonesia by 2013).  Their population sizes change minimally, but their urban population and carbon emissions continue to grow, as their location on the graph goes higher and farther right. Previous research on China shows a positive impact of urbanization on carbon emissions (Zhang, 2014). Zhang et al. (2014) found a 1% increase in urban populations relates to a 2.2195% increase in CO2 emission intensity.

When changing the data sets to CO2 emissions per capita and the percent of total population that is living in urban areas, the correlation appears stronger, as both increase with each other.  Once again though, this could be related to other factors.    Urbanization and CO2 emissions may both have increased over time without the two variables being related.


  •      Concluding remarks

Total CO2 emissions and urbanizations, as well as emissions per capita and percent urban population have increased rapidly from 1960-2013.  Whether urbanization affects carbon emission levels, while quite possible, requires more information to know for sure.  There was no data set available for rural populations, and so I could not compare these graphics to what the graphics of rural population vs. carbon emissions.  This could give me better insight as to whether correlation equals causation in this case, or if it is just related to overall population growth.  While between 1990 and 2013 there appears more of a relation between urbanization and emissions because total population starts to grow less, more information is needed to know if this correlation is not actually caused by other factors.  These countries economic and industrial factors could have more of an effect on emissions than a growth in urban population does.  More information is required to know if this correlation means they are directly related or both caused by other factors not included in the data.

  •      Bibliography

Liddle, Brantley. 2013. “Impact of population, age structure, and urbanization on carbon emissions/energy consumption: evidence from macro-level, cross-country analyses.” Population Environment, 35: 286. DOI:

Zhang, YJ., Liu, Z., Zhang, H. et al. 2014. “The impact of economic growth, industrial structure and urbanization on carbon emission intensity in China.” Natural Hazards, 73: 579. DOI:


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