Low-carbon urban development is one of the key approaches promoted by the Chinese government to achieve its international commitments of reducing carbon intensity (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product) by 40 % to 45 % below 2005 levels by 2020 and to achieve the recently-announced goal of peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 or earlier. Analysis of progress in low-carbon development among Chinese cities has shown that local climate change government agencies lack knowledge of analytical tools to evaluate specific policies and programs, especially those related to energy efficiency, for achieving their goals. In addition, most Chinese urban low carbon plans lack explicit targets, metrics, and implementation mechanisms to effectively capture their energy efficiency potential. A dynamic decision-making tool called the Benchmarking and Energy-Saving Tool for Low-Carbon Cities (BEST-Cities) has been developed and tested by researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s China Energy Group along with colleagues from China’s Energy Research Institute and the Shandong Academy of Sciences. The goal of BEST-Cities is to provide local governments in China with strategies they can follow to reduce city-wide carbon emissions. The tool assesses local energy use and energy-related emissions in nine key urban areas (i.e., industry, public and commercial buildings, residential buildings, transportation, power and heat, street lighting, water and wastewater, solid waste, and urban green space), benchmarks city energy and emissions performance to other cities inside and outside China, and identifies those sectors with the greatest energy saving and emissions reduction potential. A key feature of BEST-Cities is its ability to help Chinese city authorities evaluate the appropriateness of more than 70 energy-efficiency strategies, helping local government officials develop an effective and realistic low carbon city action plan. This paper provides an introduction to BEST-Cities as well as findings from the implementation of the tool in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province, which emits the most CO2 of all of China’s provinces.