Gaurav Khanna, Wenquan Liang, Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, Ran Song, 08 April 2021

Why do workers remain in low-productivity areas when they could experience wage gains elsewhere? While the literature has proposed a few explanations, including the high cost and risky nature of migration, this column uses the case of China to examine instead the role that pollution plays. It finds that severe pollution can induce workers to relocate from productive to unproductive regions, suggesting that pollution control, coupled with policies facilitating migration, has the potential to bring about extra economic gains in developing countries.

Itzhak Ben-David, 05 March 2021

Anti-pollution laws penalise firms whose activities emit CO2. Itzhak Ben-David tells Tim Phillips that well-intentioned regulation may be causing multinationals to shunt polluting activities to poorer countries where regulation isn’t so strict.

Tatyana Deryugina, Nolan Miller, David Molitor, Julian Reif, 13 January 2021

Policies aimed at reducing the harmful effects of air pollution on human health typically focus on improving air quality in polluted areas. This column suggests a shift in focus from targeting the most polluted places to serving the most vulnerable people. Basing air quality regulations on pollution levels may be less valuable than reducing air pollution in regions with vulnerable populations. Programmes that reduce poverty or improve access to health care may also lessen the recipients’ susceptibility to acute pollution exposure.

Panle Jia Barwick, Shanjun Li, Liguo Lin, Eric Zou, 12 February 2020

During 2013–2014, China launched a nationwide, real-time air quality monitoring and disclosure programme which substantially expanded public access to pollution information. This column analyses the impact of the programme and finds that it triggered a cascade of changes in household behaviour, prompting people to find out more online about pollution-related topics, adjust their day-to-day consumption to avoid exposure to pollution, and exhibit a higher willingness to pay for housing in less-polluted areas. The programme’s estimated annual health benefits far outweigh the combined costs of the programme and associated pollution-avoidance behaviours.

Achyuta Adhvaryu, Sadish D, Namrata Kala, Anant Nyshadham, 29 September 2019

The impact of environmental conditions on worker productivity provides an opportunity to study the effectiveness of management practices in increasing worker efficiency. This column uses evidence from Indian garment factories to show how air pollution reduces the relative productivity of workers in tasks in which they are otherwise more efficient. Effective managers can respond by reallocating workers to other tasks in order to bring total productivity losses to near zero. 

Panle Jia Barwick, Shanjun Li, Deyu Rao, Nahim Bin Zahur, 04 September 2018

Air pollution is a serious concern for China. National levels of fine particular matter are well above recommended standards, and the average concentration across China’s thirteen largest cities is 30% higher than the national average. This column examines the relationship between health spending in China and air pollution, showing that health spending increases significantly during the two months following exposure to air pollution. A reduction of fine particular matter by about 20% from the current level could result in annual savings of 60 billion yuan in healthcare expenditure.

Emilia Simeonova, Janet Currie, J Peter Nilsson, Reed Walker, 08 July 2018

Traffic congestion is a major problem for urban centres. Among various negative externalities, traffic creates substantial pollution which can impact the health of residents. This column explores how the implementation of a congestion pricing zone affected the health of children in Stockholm. The programme saw short-term reductions in common traffic pollutants and an accompanying decrease in children’s hospital visits for acute asthma. This decrease grew larger the longer the tax was in place. 

Amyra Asamoah, Emine Hanedar, Baoping Shang, 12 June 2017

Despite a growing consensus in favour of reform of costly and environmentally damaging energy price subsidies, many countries remain resistant. This column takes stock of recent developments using an updated energy price database. Environmental concerns seem to be playing a larger role in driving reform, but most reforming countries are found to have been facing large fiscal imbalances. These countries may need additional, deeper measures for the reforms to last.

Matthew Kahn, Cong Sun, Siqi Zheng, 08 July 2015

China’s cities suffer from extremely high levels of air pollution, and Chinese consumers spend more than $US100 million on anti-smog products per year. Using recent internet sales data, this column explores how investing in such self-protection products varies for consumers with different income brackets. The urban poor are shown to be less likely to engage in this health-improving strategy. This suggests that cross-sectional income comparisons understate lifetime inequality.

Áureo De Paula, John Lynham, Timothy Halliday, 22 June 2015

For policy to target air pollution optimally, a thorough understanding of its harms is required. However, disentangling the health effects of specific pollutants has proved challenging, as multiple chemicals tend to co-occur in industrial pollution. This column exploits volcanic emissions in Hawaii to examine the health impact of a specific pollutant – airborne particulates. Short-term exposure to particulate pollution is found to increase pulmonary-related hospitalisations and expenditures, particularly among very young children. 

Spencer Banzhaf, Andrew Chupp, 01 July 2010

In a federal system like the US or EU, should the central government or the individual governments regulate environmental damage? This column argues that – subject to certain conditions – individual states often undervalue pollution whereas a centralised system, by imposing an average price, often overshoots the optimum price – but mispricing too high causes fewer distortions than mispricing too low.


CEPR Policy Research