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This project will employ structural decomposition analysis and a comprehensive Chinese database (Wang et al. 2015; Wang 2017) to analyse changes in China’s economic structure and rapid urbanization, and what these changes mean for CO2 emissions, regional employment, water use and material resource use. A particular focus will be on the growth of the urban population, and the role of cities as urban funnels of resources and pollution.

The applicant will join the ISA Research Group at the School of Physics – The University of Sydney. ISA develops leading-edge research and applications for environmental and broader sustainability issues, bringing together expertise in environmental science, economics, technology, and social science.


Dr Arunima Malik.

Research location

School of Physics

Program type



A major part of the global population lives in cities and urban areas, and cities are home to half of the world’s population. As centres of economic and social activities, as well as engines of growth in the global economy, cities are driving consumption and associated environmental impacts. Urban residents and activities contribute to about 80% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and China has become the largest GHG emitter globally due to both economic growth and urbanization. Metropolitan areas also play a dominant role in sustainable development and climate change mitigation, because they have the potential to innovate and initiate low-carbon infrastructure pathways as well as influence changes in lifestyles. There are several alliances such as the C40 group of cities or the recently launched Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (launched March 2017), that promote sustainability in urban policy and decision making, and provide model case studies. China ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and has committed to cut carbon emissions by 60-65% per unit of GDP by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. One objective of the Chinese 2016-2020 Five-Year Plan for national economic development is that more developed cities should reach the peak of their emissions ahead of the nation. This is relevant because 80% of total Chinese national GHG emissions can be attributed to activities in Chinese cities, highlighting the important roles that Chinese cities are playing in national carbon mitigation.

Cities are by no means autonomous but rely on natural resources from other regions within a country or from the rest of the world. Cities usually source a major part of their natural resource demand from their local, national and global hinterland, and cause emissions across the whole global supply chain. As a consequence, cities inevitably cause carbon emissions, natural resource use and are responsible for environmental impacts beyond their geographical boundaries. Therefore, in terms of urban carbon mitigation, it is important to consider the reduction of emissions related to trade.

This project will apply Structural Decomposition Analysis (SDA) to a time series of detailed Chinese multi-region input-output (MRIO) databases (Wang et al. 2015; Wang 2017), with the aim of elucidating the effect of economic change and urbanization on economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Additional information

Applicants need to satisfy the eligibility criteria for PhD enrolment at the University of Sydney. Interest and prior engagement in broader sustainability will be beneficial. 

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2304

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