Cities are a major source of energy use and greenhouse gases emissions, as well as being at the core of the climate change mitigation. With the Revitalizing Old Industrial Base of Northeast China strategy, Northeast China has been a typical developing region with rapid industrialization and urbanization accompanied by substantial energy consumption and carbon emissions. Therefore, northeastern Chinese cities should play an important role in regional low-carbon developments. This study presents several improvements to previous method to improve the accuracy of the results. Using the modified method, for the first time, we compile carbon emission inventories for 30 cities in Northeast China based on fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes. The results indicate that Anshan emitted the most carbon emissions annually, followed by Benxi and the vice-provincial cities (including Changchun, Shenyang, Dalian and Harbin). In 2012, the total carbon emissions of the 30 cities amounted to 973.95 million tonnes, accounting for 9.71% and 2.75% of national and global carbon emissions, respectively. Most of the CO2 emissions of these cities were from the ‘nonmetal and metal industry’ and ‘energy production and supply’. Raw coal was the primary source of carbon emissions in Northeast China, and industrial processes also played a significant role in determining the carbon emissions. Additionally, both the average per capita carbon emissions and carbon emission intensity in the 30 cities were higher than the national levels. According to the differences in carbon emissions characteristics, we present several policy recommendations for carbon mitigation for northeastern Chinese cities. This study provides consistent and comparable spatial-temporal city-level emission database for further research on relationships between economic development and environmental protection in Northeast China. Simultaneously, this study provides practical reference values for other developing regions throughout the world to create low-carbon road maps.