Urban Pollution Progress in China?

In the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, Siqi Zheng and I have a new paper titled “Understanding China’s Urban Pollution Dynamics”.     Our paper’s abstract is presented below the fold.   This paper lays out the broad plan for our 2014 University of Chicago Press book tentatively titled; “Blue Skies in China?”.

China’s ongoing urban economic growth has sharply increased the population’s per capita income, lowered the count of people living below the poverty line, and caused  major environmental problems. We survey the growing literature investigating the causes and consequences of China’s urban pollution challenges. We begin by studying how urban population and industrial growth impacts local pollution levels and greenhouse gas production. As the urban population grows richer, its demand for private transportation and electricity sharply increases. Such privately beneficial activity  exacerbates urban pollution externalities. Facing these severe environmental challenges,  China’s urbanites increasingly demand quality of life progress. We survey the emerging  literature investigating the demand for environmental progress in China. Progress in mitigating externalities hinges on whether the powerful central and local governments choose to address these issues. We analyze the political economy of whether government officials have strong incentives to tackle lingering urban externalities. We conclude by discussing future research opportunities at the intersection of environmental and urban economics. (JEL O18, P25, P28, Q53, R23, R41, R58)

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

6 thoughts on “Urban Pollution Progress in China?”

  1. MK, I think there is some problem with the tags on your posts — they keep getting tagged “Category: Medicare” despite a more or less total absence of Medicare-related content.

    1. For that matter, clicking on the “Medicare” tag suggests that other contributors to the RBC have this problem as well, though Kahn’s posts seem to be particularly afflicted.

  2. ¨We analyze the political economy of whether government officials have strong incentives to tackle lingering urban externalities.¨ What did you conclude?

    From a distance, the incentives seem extremely strong: they risk losing power and wealth, possibly their lives if it´s messy. Do you keep the Mandate of Heaven when you have covered the heavens in a blanket of smog? On the other hand they face similar risks if they stall the expected growth in living standards in order to cut pollution. It´s an existential dilemma; and the fate of the world hangs on their decision.

    There must be a remote chance the Chinese oligarchy will have a brainwave that they can answer the question by letting the people decide on the tradeoff, not deciding for them and maybe getting it fatally wrong.

    Miao Liansheng, the boss of Yingli, the largest producer of solar panels in China and the world, sleeps in the office. You can see why.

  3. I spent six weeks in Xi’an this summer and everything you’ve heard about the smog in China is true. There were several days where you couldn’t do much more than see across the street.

    1. Xi’an is a big city of 8m. Its economy seems from Wikikpedia to rely on services (tourism, software) and fairly light and high-tech manufacturing, including aerospace. It doesn´t seem to have steelmaking or bulk chemicals, the sort of heavy industry that creates unusually high pollution. It has lots of universities and a highly educated workforce, exposed to international trade, that knows it doesn´t have to be this way. The sort of place where the blue touch paper may already be burning.

  4. They don’t have any birds in China, either. A wildlife biologist I know traveled for three weeks and saw 2 birds total in China. As soon as the little birds appeared over a grain field, they were immediately shot and then eaten.

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