Jean-Philippe Bonardi, Quentin Gallea, Dimitrija Kalanoski, Rafael Lalive, Raahil Madhok, Frederik Noack, Dominic Rohner, Tommaso Sonno, 21 June 2021

A belief that the environment rebounded during Covid-19 lockdowns is widespread. This column uncovers a more complex reality. Though domestic and international lockdowns prompted a 35–45% reduction in pollution, air quality effects across the world were unequal. When restrictions were placed on some economic activities (transport and industry), people shifted to others (domestic energy). Reductions in economic activities degrade the environment in countries where domestic energy is the largest source of pollution, and policies aimed at combatting climate change must account for such diverse outcomes.

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.

Yana Jin, Mu Quan, Chiara Ravetti, Zhang Shiqiu, Timothy Swanson, 02 December 2015

Many cities in China have notoriously high levels of air pollution. Given its tight control over the media, the Chinese government has a high degree of control over public information about air quality. This column explores the government’s incentive to downplay the seriousness of pollution spikes. Households that rely exclusively on public media are found to engage in less self-protective behaviours. This could lead to substantial public health costs in the long run that might otherwise have been avoided.

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