From Low- To Net-Zero Carbon Cities- To Next Global Agenda

Karen C. Seto, Galina Churkina, Angel Hsu, Meredith Keller, Peter W.G. Newman, Bo Qin, Anu Ramaswami

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


This article provides a systematic review of the literature on net-zero carbon cities, their objectives and key features, current efforts, and performance. We discuss how net-zero differs from low-carbon cities, how different visions of a net-zero carbon city relate to urban greenhouse gas accounting, deep decarbonization pathways and their application to cities and urban infrastructure systems, net-zero carbon cities in theory versus practice, lessons learned from net-zero carbon city plans and implementation, and opportunities and challenges in transitioning toward net-zero carbon cities across both sectors and various spatial fabrics within cities. We conclude that it is possible for cities to get to or near net-zero carbon, but this requires systemictransformation. Crucially, a city cannot achieve net-zero by focusing only on reducing emissions within its administrative boundaries. Cities must decarbonize key transboundary supply chains and use urban and regional landscapes to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Because of carbon lock-in, and the complex interplay between urban infrastructure and behavior, strategic sequencing of mitigation action is essential for cities to achieve net-zero.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-415
Number of pages39
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science


  • climate-neutral city, net-zero cities, deep decarbonization, carbon-free city, zero-carbon city, carbon-neutral city


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