As cities are the center of human activity and the basic unit of policy design, they have become the focus of carbon dioxide reduction, especially metropolitan areas that are high energy consumers and carbon dioxide emitters in countries such as China. The fact cities differ in their levels of development and stages of industrialization points to the need for tailor-made low-carbon policies. This study is the first to consider cities' different phases of industrialization when analyzing city-level emission patterns and drivers, as well as the decoupling statuses between economic growth and their emission levels in China. The results of 15 representative cities at different phases of industrialization show that various decoupling statuses, driving factors and decoupling efforts exist among cities, and that heterogeneity among these factors also exists among cities at the same industrialization phase. For further decomposition, energy intensity contributed the most to emissions reduction during the period 2005 to 2010, especially for cities with more heavy manufacturing industries, whereas industrial structure was a stronger negative emission driver during the period 2010 to 2015. Based on those findings, we suggest putting into practice a diversified carbon-mitigation policy portfolio according to each city's industrialization phase rather than a single policy that focuses on one specific driving factor. This paper sets an example on emissions-reduction experience for other cities undergoing different industrialization phases in China; it also sheds light on policy initiatives that could be applied to other cities around the world.