In this study, we analyze the spatial distribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across China and the entire world economy triggered by urban activities in the four case study cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing. We find that more than 70% of CO2 emissions related to goods and services consumed in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin occur outside the respective city boundary. Consumption in Beijing and Tianjin heavily relies on production in surrounding regions, and at the same time outsourcing significant amounts of CO2 emissions to these regions. Even in less developed western China, about half of Chongqing’s carbon footprint is outsourced. For all four cities, capital formation has the largest share of total carbon footprint compared with household and government sectors. The share of embodied emissions associated with capital formation ranges from 48% for Tianjin to 59% for Chongqing. Urban infrastructure expansion along with the ongoing fast urbanization process will inevitably lead to more energy and emissions-intensive production in China, and impose a large amount of emissions to its surrounding regions by importing construction-related inputs especially of those not suitable for long-distance transportation.