In an effort to address climate change, in 2013 China launched the world's largest government-driven carbon emission reduction programme, the National Low Carbon Industrial Parks Pilot Programme (LCIPPP). This paper analyses this newly developed pilot program. To deepen our understanding of the causes and the impact of industrial park CO 2 emissions, we use the STIRPAT (Stochastic Impacts by Regression on Population, Affluence and Technology) model and data from 20 pilot industrial parks involved in the LCIPPP for the period 2012–2016. This study quantitatively evaluates the effect of CO 2 emissions on output, energy structure, energy intensity, industrial structure, R&D intensity, and population change in different regions and nationally through an elasticity coefficient method. The results confirm that an increase in output and energy intensity is a dominant contributor to the growth of CO 2 emissions whereas an increase of the share of tertiary industry and R&D intensity has significant effects on reducing CO 2 emissions. The elasticity of energy intensity and renewable energy consumption on CO 2 emissions in the eastern region of China is the highest, indicating that using renewable energy to reduce CO 2 emissions for the industrial parks is more effective in the eastern region as compared to the central and western regions of the country. The elasticity of population is significantly negative in both the central and western areas while it is positive in eastern part of China, thereby illustrating that promoting labour intensive industries will be an effective way to reduce CO 2 emissions for the industrial parks in China's central and western regions. Our study reveals that differentiated low carbon development pathways should be adopted. Concrete policy implications for reducing CO 2 emissions are also provided.