Urban subway system, as an important type of urban transportation infrastructure, can provide mass mobility service and help address urban sustainability challenges such as traffic congestion and air pollution. The continuous construction of subways, however, causes large amounts of construction materials and embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In this study, we characterized the patterns of subway development, construction material stocks, and embodied emissions covering all 219 cities in the world in which subways are found by July 2020. The global subway length reached 16,419 km in 2020, and the construction material stocks amounted to 2.5 gigatons, equaling to an embodied emission of 560 megatons. In particular, China’s subway system contributes to ~40% of the total global stocks, with a pattern of moderate and steady stocks growth before 2010 and a rapid expansion afterwards, implying the late-development advantages and infrastructure-based urbanization mode. Our results demonstrated that identifying the spatiotemporal characteristics of subway materials stocks development is imperative for benchmarking future resource demand, informing sustainable subway planning, prospecting urban mining and waste management opportunities and challenges, and mitigating the associated environmental impacts for global GHG emission reduction.
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