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Environmental policy -- Developing countries, Carbon dioxide -- Environmental aspects, Urbanization -- Effect on carbon dioxide emissions


Understanding the relationship between carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the urbanization of national populations has been a key concern for environmental scholars for several decades. Although sophisticated modeling techniques have been developed to explore the connection between increases in urban populations and CO2 emissions, none has attempted to assess whether declines in urbanization have an effect on emissions that is not symmetrical with that of growth in urbanization. The present study uses panel data on CO2 emissions and the percentage of individuals living in urban areas, as well as a variety of other structural factors, for less-developed countries from 1960–2010, to empirically assess whether the effect of growth in urban populations on emissions is symmetrical with the effect of decline. Findings indicate that the effect of growth/decline in urban populations on CO2 emissions is asymmetrical, where a decline in urbanization reduces emissions to a much greater degree than urbanization increases emissions. We hypothesize that this is at least in part because deurbanization is connected with disruptions to the production and distribution of goods and services and/or access to electricity and other energy sources. Our finding suggests that not only the absolute level of urbanization of nations matters for emissions, but also how the patterns of migration between rural and urban areas change over time. Future research should be mindful of the processes behind deurbanization when exploring socioeconomic drivers of CO2 emissions.


© 2018 McGee, York. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Originally appeared in PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, published by the Public Library of Science. May be accessed at



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