Land-use change, particularly urban expansion, can greatly affect the carbon balance, both from the aspects of terrestrial ecosystems and anthropogenic carbon emissions. Coastal China is a typical region of rapid urban expansion, and obvious spatial heterogeneity exists from the north to south. However, the different urban change characteristics and the effect on carbon balance remain undetermined. By unifying the spatial-temporal resolution of carbon source and sink data, we effectively compared the carbon budgets of three coastal urban agglomerations in China. The results show that all of the three urban agglomerations have undergone an obvious urban expansion process, with the built-up area increasing from 1.03 × 104
in 2000 to 3.06 × 104
in 2013. For Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei (BTH), the built-up area gradually expanded. The built-up area in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) gradually changed before 2007 but rapidly grew thereafter. The built-up expansion of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) passed through three growing stages and showed the largest mean patch size. Carbon emission spatial patterns in the three urban agglomerations are consistent with their economic development, from which the net ecosystem production (NEP) spatial patterns are very different. Compared to carbon emissions, NEP has a carbon sink effect and can absorb some carbon emissions, but the amounts were all much lower than the carbon emissions in the three urban agglomerations. The carbon sink effect in the Yangtze River Delta is the most obvious, with the Pearl River Delta following, and the lowest effect is in Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei. Finally, a scientific basis for policy-making is provided for viable CO2
emission mitigation policies.
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