China’s Energy & Environment Challenge
Over the past three decades, China’s remarkable economic growth has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and improved living standards on a scale unrivaled in economic history. This rapid expansion in energy and the dramatic growth it has fueled has transformed the country into one of the world’s most important economic powers. It has also, however, had profound environmental consequences. Chinese citizens breathe some of the world’s most polluted air, leading to serious health problems and shortened lives. China has also become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, making it critical to global efforts to mitigate climate change.
Chinese policymakers have begun implementing an ambitious agenda to address these challenges. Since 2013, China has made incredible progress in its “war on pollution,” with particulate pollution levels dropping by 20 to 40 percent in major cities. Yet, as policymakers continue to work toward additional improvements that produce cleaner air, water, and soil without sacrificing economic growth, it will be crucial to identify the most cost effective and efficient policies available.
EPIC has developed a successful model for addressing the world’s most difficult energy and environmental challenges. At its core, the EPIC model focuses on producing data driven, tested research insights in partnership with local, regional, and national governments. Our process helps ensure that the right questions are being asked, solutions are tested on the ground and rigorously measured, and results can be scaled up into successful policies. EPIC is committed to working with governments in the regions and countries of the world that are at the center of these critical issues, including in China.
“EPIC-China takes the established research and existing partnerships of UChicago faculty to the next level. Alongside our Chinese partners, our aim is to conduct ground-breaking research on how to ensure access to inexpensive and reliable energy while meeting China’s ambitious pollution-reduction goals. This work could bring long-lasting benefits not just to China, but also to the rest of the world.”
Michael Greenstone, Director, EPIC
As a part of EPIC’s work in China, the University of Chicago and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) have formed a groundbreaking collaboration that will support a wide range of research focused on energy and environmental issues and policies. The Joint Center for Energy Policy Research in China aims to generate fresh insights into pressing energy and environmental challenges, offering Chinese policymakers new tools to tackle important priorities, such as cost-effective reductions in environmental pollution.
“Our relationship combines the prominent engineering expertise of UCAS with the University of Chicago’s global leadership in economic analysis. Working together, I believe these two perspectives have the ability to produce new ideas and solutions that might not exist otherwise.”
Shushen LI, UCAS President
The Power of Chicago Economics
The University of Chicago School of Economics has a rich legacy of demonstrating the power of markets and economic insights to solve some of society’s greatest challenges. Through rigorous data-driven analysis and a willingness to venture into areas not previously considered part of the field, University of Chicago economists have produced major advances on a range of issues, including poverty, education, and now, energy and the environment. Thirty scholars associated with the School have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, and eighteen have received the John Bates Clark Medals, awarded to young economists who have made the most important contributions to the field.
The Becker Friedman Institute for Economics (BFI) serves as a hub for cutting-edge analysis and research across the entire University of Chicago economics community, uniting researchers from the Booth School of Business, the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, the Harris School of Public Policy, and the Law School in an unparalleled effort to uncover new ways of thinking about economics. As part of the broader Chicago Economics community, EPIC is an affiliated center of BFI. Working in close partnership with Chinese researchers and research institutions, BFI-China aims to develop new insights on the critical economic issues facing Chinese policymakers today.
Michael Greenstone is the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, the College and the Harris School, as well as the Director of the Becker Friedman Institute and the interdisciplinary Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. He previously served as the Chief Economist for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, where he co-led the development of the United States Government’s social cost of carbon. Greenstone also directed The Hamilton Project, which studies policies to promote economic growth, and has since joined its Advisory Council. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Econometric Society, and a former editor of the Journal of Political Economy. Before coming to the University of Chicago, Greenstone was the 3M Professor of Environmental Economics at MIT.
Greenstone’s research, which has influenced policy globally, is largely focused on uncovering the benefits and costs of environmental quality and society’s energy choices. His current work is particularly focused on testing innovative ways to increase energy access and improve the efficiency of environmental regulations around the world. Additionally, he is producing empirically grounded estimates of the local and global impacts of climate change as a co-director of the Climate Impact Lab. He also created the Air Quality Life Index™ that provides a measure of the gain in life expectancy communities would experience if their particulates air pollution concentrations are brought into compliance with global or national standards.
Greenstone received a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University and a BA in economics with High Honors from Swarthmore College.
Guojun He is an assistant professor in the Division of Social Science, Division of Environment & Sustainability, and Department of Economics at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He is a faculty affiliate of HKUST’s Institute for Emerging Market Studies and Institute for Public Policy. He holds concurrent appointment at the Energy Policy Institute of University of Chicago (EPIC) and serves as the research director of its China Center (EPIC-China).
Prof, He’s research tries to address some of the most challenging problems faced by developing countries and seeks to produce empirically-grounded estimates for optimal policy design. The majority of his work focuses on understanding the benefits and costs of environmental policies, while he also has broader research interest on development and governance issues.
Xing Huang is the Associate Director of Policy Research, Climate and Sustainable Urbanization based in the Paulson Institute Representative Office in Beijing. In this role, Xing helps to lead research and policy studies from inception to publication. He formulates and recommends sound policies on climate and sustainable urbanization for central and local governments.
Prior to joining the Paulson Institute, Xing worked at the National Energy Conservation Center, an affiliate of the NDRC, where he was responsible for policy research, consultation, and evaluation related to energy conservation, emission reduction, and environmental protection. Xing participated in the drafting and promotion of multiple energy-related regulations including their supporting guidelines and technical standards. Following graduation, he worked at the North China Power Engineering Co. where he acquired professional technical experience in energy industry. Xing has held concurrent posts as a commissioner in several energy-related standardization commissions.
Xing has a master’s degree in thermal engineering from North China Electric Power University.
Dr. Kevin Mo is the Senior Director of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Research Institute in China (EPIC China) and Senior Advisor to Becker Friedman Institute China (BFI China). He is also Managing Director of the Paulson Institute Representative Office. He has more than 25 years of experience in strategizing and implementing climate and energy policies in both the U.S. and China. He is a frequent speaker on energy policies and sustainable development at international conferences and workshops. Dr. Mo was the director of Energy Foundation’s China Buildings Program, a project director at Natural Resources Defense Council, a research engineer at Maryland-based NAHB Research Center and a lecturer at Tsinghua University.
Dr. Mo is a board director of World Green Building Council, an advisor to the U.S. team in the US-China Clean Energy Research Center’s Building Energy Efficiency Consortium. He was elected to the Top 10 Green Motivators in 2017 by China Real Estate News. He won the EEBA 25th Anniversary Legacy Award in 2007 by managing a U.S. Department of Energy’s energy efficiency award program. At Tsinghua University, he won the 2nd Science and Technology Progress Award from China’s Ministry of Culture in 1995.
He received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, a master’s degree from Tsinghua University and a bachelor’s degree from Zhejiang University.
Shaoda Wang is currently a postdoctoral scholar at UChicago Economics, and will join the UChicago Harris School as an assistant professor in 2021. His research interests include political economy, development economics, and environmental economics. His research aims at understanding the political economy of public policy (design, implementation, effectiveness), with a regional focus on China. Prior to Chicago, he received his BA from Peking University, and PhD from UC Berkeley.
As China balances its need for economic growth and environmental quality, it is important that Chinese policymakers compare the costs and benefits of alternative policy options to ensure they are choosing the most efficient policies. EPIC-China will work with policymakers to conduct cost-benefit analyses based on real-world data.
Early work by EPIC scholars reveals the benefits of this approach. By studying the effects of the Huai River policy—under which people living north of the river were provided with free coal boilers and subsidized coal —EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, Guojun He (Director of Research, EPIC-China), and their coauthors found that people in the north live 3.1 fewer years than people in the south due to air pollution concentrations that are 46 percent higher.
In another study using the Huai River policy, EPIC scholar Koichiro Ito and his coauthor measured demand for air purifiers and found that Chinese households are on average willing to pay $1.34 per year to remove 1 μg/m3 of particulate pollution (PM10). This estimate suggests that a household is willing to pay $32.70 per year to eliminate the air pollution created by the Huai River heating policy. The authors also use this estimate to quantify the value of recent air quality improvements in China. Since China declared a war on pollution in 2013, particulate pollution decreased substantially, suggesting that a household is willing to pay at least $65.52 per year to have these air quality improvements.
Climate change will affect every sector of the economy, both locally and globally—from the amount of energy used to heat and cool homes, to our ability to work and play outside, to the performance of entire economic sectors, from agriculture to tourism. Chinese policymakers, business owners and investors, community planners, and a range of other stakeholders need more information about the specific effects climate change will have on their work in order to plan and adapt. EPIC-China will work with them to quantifying these impacts and help inform their decision-making.
EPIC has made substantial progress in advancing knowledge of the economics of climate change. Director Michael Greenstone is a co-founder of the Climate Impact Lab, a collaboration of economists, climate scientists and computational experts working to advance understanding of the social and economic costs of climate change. Through this work, he and his colleagues are producing estimates of the physical (e.g., temperature, precipitation, inundation, and flooding/storm surges) and economic impacts of climate change at a highly localized level for the world. Using the most comprehensive climate and economic data sets ever compiled, they are estimating these impacts across seven categories: human health, agricultural production, energy demand, labor productivity, conflict, migration, and coastal damage due to sea level rise and more severe storms. EPIC-China and the Climate Impact Lab plan to produce this highly localized information for China.
China’s energy consumption is the highest in the world, and it still drives the largest share of demand growth. Building efficient, adaptable energy markets and supportive public policies is essential to delivering affordable, reliable energy. EPIC-China will work to uncover the policies, prices and information needed to help energy markets work efficiently.
EPIC scholars have already begun evaluating China’s policies to improve energy efficiency. EPIC scholar Koichiro Ito and his coauthor are working with a heating provider in Tianjin to see if introducing a usage-based price in addition to the annual fixed payment consumers are accustomed to paying could encourage households to conserve heat. Their preliminary findings suggest that the usage-based price causes households to reduce their heat use by 30 percent. Their estimate suggests that the welfare gain from this policy is substantially larger than the cost of the policy, which includes meter installation and a new billing system.
“Our work shows that it is important to provide correct price incentives to conserve energy and reduce pollution. Financial incentives push people to change their habits and develop new ones.” – Koichiro Ito, Associate Professor, Harris Public Policy
Over the last decade, a revolution in remote sensing and real-time monitoring—with technologies that are smaller, more accurate, cheaper and more mobile—has combined with advances in data analysis to create an opportunity to transform environmental protection. EPIC-China plans to work with regulators to apply these advances to improve environmental quality in China.
Globally, EPIC has a track record of using monitoring and data analysis to reduce environmental violations. In one project, EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and his colleagues in India are testing the effectiveness of real-time emissions monitoring in place of manual collections. By allowing regulators to pinpoint where pollution is occurring and if policies are working, the automated system is improving detection of violations. In a similar project, Greenstone and his colleagues measured the impact water meters installed in homes in a city in California had on reducing violations of water use laws and water use overall. The researchers compared homes where fines were issued based on water meter data to homes where fines were issued based on in-person inspections. Again, more accurate detection from the water meters deterred violators—with 17 percent fewer violations—and reduced water use by about 3 percent.
In some recent work, Greenstone, Guojun He, and their coauthors find that the automation of air pollution monitoring and reporting by the central government greatly improves the reliability of pollution concentration readings in China. The improvement is evidenced by the level, variance, seasonality of reported PM10 concentrations, as well as the correlation between reported PM10 and satellite data. This suggests that automatic monitoring greatly reduces the degree of data manipulation.
Straw Burning, PM2.5 and Death: Evidence from China
The short-term impacts of COVID-19 lockdown on urban air pollution in China
Can Technology Solve the Principal-Agent Problem? Evidence from China’s War on Air Pollution
Mitigating the Air Pollution Effect? The Remarkable Decline in the Pollution-Mortality Relationship in Hong Kong
Winter Heating, Air Pollution, and Acute Health Impact: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design
Expressways, GDP, and the Environment: A Case of China
AQLI Update: Is China Winning its War on Pollution?
Leveraging Political Incentives for Environmental Regulation: Evidence from Chinese Manufacturing Firms
Willingness to Pay for Clean Air: Evidence from Air Purifier Markets in China
New evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River Policy
Particulate Air Pollution and Mortality in 38 of China’s Largest Cities: Time-Series Analysis
Surface Water Pollution and Infant Mortality in China
The Effect of Air Pollution on Mortality: Evidence from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
Growth, Pollution, and Life Expectancy: China from 1991-2012
This study uses satellite data to detect agricultural straw burning and estimates its impact on air pollution and health in China. We find that straw burning increases particulate matter pollution and causes people to die from cardiorespiratory diseases. We estimate that a 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 increases mortality by 3.25%. Middle-aged and old people in rural areas are particularly sensitive to straw burning pollution. Exploratory analysis of China’s programs to subsidize straw recycling suggests that extending these programs to all the straw burning regions would bring about a health benefit that is an order of magnitude larger than the cost.
To prevent the escalation of COVID-19 transmission, China locked down one-third of its cities, which strictly curtailed personal mobility and economic activities. Using comprehensive daily air quality data in China, we evaluated the impacts of these measures in terms of the Air Quality Index (AQI) and the concentrations of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5). To infer their causal relationships, we employed difference-in-differences models that compare cities with and without lockdown policies. We found that city lockdowns led to a sizeable improvement in air quality. Within weeks, the AQI in the locked-down cities was brought down by 19.84 points (PM2.5 down by 14.07 µg m−3) relative to the control group. In addition, air quality in cities without formal lockdowns also improved because of the enforcement of other types of counter-virus measures. The AQI in those cities was brought down by 6.34 points (PM2.5 down by 7.05 µg m−3) relative to the previous year. The lockdown effects are larger in colder, richer and more industrialized cities. Despite these improvements, PM2.5 concentrations during the lockdown periods remained four times higher than the World Health Organization recommendations, suggesting much further effort is needed. Existing environmental policies could obtain similar air quality improvements at a much lower economic cost, making city lockdowns an unsustainable option to address environmental issues.
We examine the introduction of automatic air pollution monitoring, which is a central feature of China’s “war on pollution.” Exploiting 654 regression discontinuity designs based on city-level variation in the day that monitoring was automated, we find that reported PM10 concentrations increased by 35% immediately post–automation and were sustained. City-level variation in underreporting is negatively correlated with income per capita and positively correlated with true pre-automation PM10 concentrations. Further, automation’s introduction increased online searches for face masks and air filters, suggesting that the biased and imperfect pre-automation information imposed welfare costs by leading to suboptimal purchases of protective goods.
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management
Using transboundary pollution from mainland China as an instrument, we show that air pollution leads to higher cardio-respiratory mortality in Hong Kong. However, the air pollution effect has dramatically decreased over the past two decades: before 2003, a 10-unit increase in the Air Pollution Index could lead to a 3.1% increase in monthly cardio-respiratory mortality, but this effect has declined to 0.5% using recent data and is no longer statistically significant. Exploratory analyses suggest that a well-functioning medical system and immediate access to emergency services can help mitigate the contemporaneous effects of pollution on mortality.
China’s coal-fired central heating systems generate large amounts of hazardous emissions and significantly deteriorate air quality. In a regression discontinuity design based on the starting dates of winter heating, we estimate the acute health impacts of winter heating and air pollution. We find that a 10-point increase in the weekly Air Quality Index will cause a 4% increase in mortality. People in poor and rural areas are particularly vulnerable to this sudden air quality deterioration, suggesting that the health impacts of air pollution can be mitigated by better socio-economic conditions. Exploratory cost-benefit analysis suggests that replacing coal with natural gas for heating can improve social welfare.
In a matched difference-in-differences setting, we show that China’s expressway expansion helps poor rural counties grow faster in GDP while slowing the rich rural counties down. This heterogeneity is not driven by factors about initial market access, factor endowments, or sectoral patterns; however, it is consistent with the Chinese government’s development strategy that relatively more developed regions prioritize environmental quality over economic growth, while poor regions pursue the opposite. We document that expressway connection indeed makes poor counties adopt dirtier technologies, host more polluting firms, and emit more pollutions, contrary to what happens to the rich connected counties. These results imply that recognizing the GDP–environment trade-off can help understand the full implications of infrastructure investment and other development initiatives.
Four years after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war against pollution,” has the government delivered on its promises to improve air quality? Using daily data from more than 200 monitors across the country from 2013 to 2017, we find that China’s most populated areas have experienced remarkable improvements in air quality, ranging from 21 to 42 percent, with most meeting or exceeding the goals outlined in their National Air Quality Action Plan. If these reductions in pollution are sustained, the average Chinese citizen would see their life expectancy increase by 2.4 years relative to 2013. Although China faces a long road ahead to reach national and international air quality standards, these results suggest the country is winning its war on pollution.
This paper estimates the effect of environmental regulation on firm productivity using a spatial regression discontinuity design implicit in China’s water quality monitoring system. Because water quality readings are important for political evaluations, and the monitoring stations only capture emissions from their upstream regions, local government officials are incentivized to enforce tighter environmental standards on firms immediately upstream of a monitoring station, rather than those immediately downstream. Exploiting this discontinuity in regulation stringency with novel firm-level geocoded emission and production datasets, we find that upstream polluting firms face a 27% reduction in Total Factor Productivity (TFP), and a 48% reduction in emission intensity, as compared to their downstream counterparts. We find that the discontinuity in TFP does not exist in non-polluting industries, only emerged after the government explicitly linked political promotion to water quality readings, and was entirely driven by prefecture cities with career-driven leaders. Linking the TFP estimate with the emission estimate, a back of the envelope calculation indicates that China’s current water-pollution abatement target leads to an annual economic loss of more than 30 billion dollars.
Award: Gregory Chow Best Paper Award, Chinese Economists Society, 2018
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming
(Working Paper, 2016)
We develop a framework to estimate willingness to pay (WTP) for clean air from defensive investments on differentiated products. Applying this framework to scanner data on air purifier sales in China, we find that households are willing to pay $1.34 per year to remove 1 µg/m3 of PM10 and $32.7 per year to eliminate policy-induced air pollution created by the Huai River heating policy. Substantial heterogeneity in WTP is explained by household income and exposures to media coverage on air pollution. Using these estimates, we examine welfare implications of existing and counterfactual environmental policies in China.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This paper finds that a 10-μg/m3 increase in airborne particulate matter [particulate matter smaller than 10 μm (PM10)] reduces life expectancy by 0.64 years (95% confidence interval = 0.21–1.07). This estimate is derived from quasiexperimental variation in PM10 generated by China’s Huai River Policy, which provides free or heavily subsidized coal for indoor heating during the winter to cities north of the Huai River but not to those to the south. The findings are derived from a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, and they are robust to using parametric and nonparametric estimation methods, different kernel types and bandwidth sizes, and adjustment for a rich set of demographic and behavioral covariates. Furthermore, the shorter lifespans are almost entirely caused by elevated rates of cardiorespiratory mortality, suggesting that PM10 is the causal factor. The estimates imply that bringing all of China into compliance with its Class I standards for PM10 would save 3.7 billion life-years.
Yin, Peng, Guojun He, Maoyong Fan et al.
The BMJ, 2017, 356: j667.
Objectives: To estimate the short term effect of particulate air pollution (particle diameter <10 μm, or PM10) on mortality and explore the heterogeneity of particulate air pollution effects in major cities in China
Design: Generalised linear models with different lag structures using time series data.
Setting: 38 of the largest cities in 27 provinces of China (combined population >200 million)
Participants: 350,638 deaths (200,912 in males, 149,726 in females) recorded in 38 city districts by the Disease Surveillance Point System of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention from 1 January 2010 to 29 June 2013.
Main outcome measure: Daily numbers of deaths from all causes, cardiorespiratory diseases, and non-cardiorespiratory diseases and among different demographic groups were used to estimate the associations between particulate air pollution and mortality.
Results: A 10 µg/m3 change in concurrent day PM10 concentrations was associated with a 0.44% (95% confidence interval 0.30% to 0.58%) increase in daily number of deaths. Previous day and two day lagged PM10 levels decreased in magnitude by one third and two thirds but remained statistically significantly associated with increased mortality. The estimate for the effect of PM10 on deaths from cardiorespiratory diseases was 0.62% (0.43% to 0.81%) per 10 µg/m3 compared with 0.26% (0.09% to 0.42%) for other cause mortality. Exposure to PM10 had a greater impact on females than on males. Adults aged 60 and over were more vulnerable to particulate air pollution at high levels than those aged less than 60. The PM10 effect varied across different cities and marginally decreased in cities with higher PM10 concentrations.
Conclusion: Particulate air pollution has a greater impact on deaths from cardiorespiratory diseases than it does on other cause mortality. People aged 60 or more have a higher risk of death from particulate air pollution than people aged less than 60. The estimates of the effect varied across cities and covered a wide range of domain.
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 2016, Vol. 79, pp. 18-39.
By exploiting exogenous variations in air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, we estimate the effect of air pollution on mortality in China. We find that a 10 percent decrease in PM10 concentrations reduces the monthly standardized all-cause mortality rate by 8 percent. Men and women are equally susceptible to air pollution risks. The age groups for which the air pollution effects are greatest are children under 10 years old and the elderly.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013, 110(32): 12936-12941.
This paper’s findings suggest that an arbitrary Chinese policy that greatly increases total suspended particulates (TSPs) air pollution is causing the 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy. The quasi-experimental empirical approach is based on China’s Huai River policy, which provided free winter heating via the provision of coal for boilers in cities north of the Huai River but denied heat to the south. Using a regression discontinuity design based on distance from the Huai River, we find that ambient concentrations of TSPs are about 184 μg/m3 [95% confidence interval (CI): 61, 307] or 55% higher in the north. Further, the results indicate that life expectancies are about 5.5 y (95% CI: 0.8, 10.2) lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality. More generally, the analysis suggests that long-term exposure to an additional 100 μg/m3 of TSPs is associated with a reduction in life expectancy at birth of about 3.0 y (95% CI: 0.4, 5.6).
China’s Straw Recycling Policy Averts Nearly 19,000 Premature Deaths a Year, Study Finds
Beyond the Pandemic: Improving Healthcare Systems Slashes Deaths from Air Pollution
EPIC-UCAS Joint Center Awards Six Grants for Energy and Environmental Research in China
EPIC Forms New Research Collaboration with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
World Economic Forum: A Chinese professor explains what air pollution does to your health
China Daily: Wigs and Others: China’s bitter and sweet manufacturing story
Technode: What social media says about China’s war on air pollution
Xinhua: UChicago forms research collaboration with Chinese university
Economic Daily: Latest international measure shows that China’s air quality has improved significantly
Technology Daily: Research from the University of Chicago shows that China’s PM2.5 has been reduced, residents’ life expectancy is increased by half a year
China.org: Dramatic drop in Chinese air pollution boosts life expectancy
Reuters: China could lift life expectancy by nearly three years if it meets WHO smog standards: study
The Guardian: China ‘environment census’ reveals 50% rise in pollution sources
Financial Times: Beijing’s smog-filled skies threaten return as factories restart
Xinhua: Further pollution reduction necessary in China: UChicago professor
Quartz: Research shows China’s war on pollution will give some people an extra five years of life
New York Times: Four Years After Declaring War on Pollution, China Is Winning
China Daily: Air Pollution Control Accelerates China’s Heating Energy Revolution
The 55 billion Chinese yuan in benefits of the subsidy program far exceed the 2.6 billion Chinese yuan in costs.
In countries that rely heavily on agriculture, straw burning is a popular practice to clear fields and prepare for new crops. But it also contributes to harmful particulate pollution. In Eastern China, for example, straw burning can account for as much as half of the pollution during summer months. While governments have historically had trouble enforcing policies to limit straw burning, a new study in the Journal of Development Economics finds that China’s recent straw recycling subsidy program is leading to less burning, less pollution, and about 18,900 averted premature deaths a year.
“Our research shows that agricultural straw burning leads to more pollution and an increased rate of mortality, especially among those who are rural, poor and elderly,” says Guojun He, research director at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in China (EPIC China) and a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Policies like China’s straw recycling program can be effective in reversing this trend.”
In 2016, the central government began providing farmers and recycling companies subsidies to encourage the recycling of straw in the top ten provinces with the most intensive straw burning—Henan, Anhui, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Jilin, Hebei, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. Each province received 100 million Chinese yuan (around 14.2 million USD) in 2016 to recycle straw, and that amount increased to 1.3 billion Chinese yuan in 2017.
In evaluating the subsidy program, Guojun He and his coauthors found that the number of straw fires in subsidized provinces dramatically declined after the policy by 153 a year, relative to the non-subsidized provinces, and this change brought down the annual average particulate pollution level by about 7 percent. As a result of these improvements, about 18,900 premature deaths could have been averted each year in China.
The researchers compared these benefits, which translate to about 55 billion Chinese yuan (around 7.85 billion USD), to the cost of the subsidy, the additional work to enforce the policy and encourage farmers to recycle straw, and the potential changes in agricultural production. Together, they estimate that the costs of the policy would be at most 2.6 billion Chinese yuan each year (around 367.6 million USD)—far below the benefits.
“The data is clear. China’s straw-recycling subsidy significantly reduced straw burning, leading to less pollution and fewer premature deaths,” says He. “Not only was it a policy well worth implementing, but it can serve as a model for other countries wrestling with the problem of straw burning.”
Particulate air pollution fell by 24 percent in China as the government worked to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As countries around the world imposed tough restrictions on daily life this Spring to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a new study in Nature Sustainability looks at how air pollution levels were impacted by the subsequent declines in economic activity. The study uses timely and comprehensive air quality data from China. It finds that in the weeks after the Chinese government locked down one third of its cities, particulate pollution (PM2.5) levels dropped by 24 percent countrywide.
“With empty roads and industrial activities largely at a halt, people were consuming less energy, and as a result air pollution levels were significantly lower than before the crisis,” says study co-author Guojun He, the research director for the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in China (EPIC China) and a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “These plummeting pollution levels can be an early indicator of the deep economic impact of COVID-19.”
He and his co-authors, Yuhang Pan and Takanao Tanaka, also from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, compared air quality data in cities where a lockdown was imposed to cities without formal lockdown policies. Those with the lockdown saw their particulate pollution drop 17 percent. To investigate the impact of precautionary measures the government took in other areas not locked down—including extending the Spring Festival holiday, requiring social distancing, and urging people to stay at home—the researchers compared pollution levels in the months and years before COVID-19 hit. They discovered that even the precautionary measures caused pollution to decline by 7 percent. Across the board, lockdowns and precautionary measures led to a 24 percent drop in particulate pollution. The study found the biggest drop in pollution to be in cities with a larger economy, greater industrial activities and traffic, and higher demand for coal heating.
“Even with significant restrictions on daily life and commerce, pollution levels in China were still four times greater than what the World Health Organization considers safe,” He says. “This could be because, while the data confirmed that traffic, industrial, and business activities are important sources of air pollution, so are coal-fired winter heating systems. Those residential heating systems were still, necessarily, powered on during the coronavirus crisis. Moving forward, it will be important for China to develop policy tools that can effectively target these sources without compromising economic activity.”
A new study finds that automated pollution monitors in China led to more accurate readings and citizens used this information to better protect themselves against the harms of air pollution.
Less than a decade ago, China suffered from a bleak challenge: Not only was air pollution a recognized problem, but many didn’t trust the data being reported by local officials. The central government knew it needed to improve air quality, but that it would be impossible without knowing true pollution levels. The challenge was that local officials often prioritized economic growth and so had strong incentives to manipulate air pollution concentrations before reporting them to the central government.
So, the central government turned to technology. On the heels of declaring a “war on pollution,” the government installed an automatic pollution monitoring system throughout the country that collects pollution data from local stations, releases the data in real-time to the public, and critically is very difficult to tamper with. The move was one of a collection of measures the government took to reduce particulate pollution, which is now down 43 percent from before the war against pollution was declared.
Results from a new study now show that the increased transparency and improved data quality rooted out manipulation and led people to better protect themselves.
“This study demonstrates the critical role greater transparency and improved data quality played in China’s efforts to reduce the harms of air pollution,” says EPIC Director Michael Greenstone, an author of the study and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics. “Unpacking what is allowing China to win its war on air pollution is important in its own right but also very useful for other countries considering taking up this challenge against what our Air quality Life Index finds is the greatest current threat to public health on the planet..”
Comparing pollution data from before and after the installation of the technology, Greenstone and his co-authors found that the installation of automatic monitors significantly improved the quality of pollution data being reported. They discovered that reported particulate pollution concentrations increased by 37 percent immediately after the technology was installed, though satellite measurements indicated no change in true air quality before and after the installation. This suggests air pollution concentrations were being underreported by local government officials. The degree of underreporting was greater in heavily polluted and lower income cities.
When the reliable information on pollution was released, people appeared to respond by taking greater measures to protect themselves. Specifically, online searches for masks—a strong correlator for purchasing behaviors—increased by as much as 300 percent after the monitors were installed, according to the study. Searches for air filters increased by around 20 percent. The implication is that the manipulated data led people to have a false sense of security and insufficiently protect themselves from air pollution’s dangers. This finding underscores the human costs of inaccurate data, as well as the central role that people play in protecting themselves from air pollution.
“While the fight against air pollution continues to be an ongoing priority for the central government, the installation of automatic pollution monitors has played an important role in improving data quality, increasing compliance, and ultimately reducing pollution across the country,” says Guojun He, research director at EPIC China and a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “Along with government actions, an accurate picture of pollution has led more Chinese people to take important steps to protect their own health through the purchase of pollution masks and air filters. Surely, the monitors are a win-win.”
Greenstone and He co-authored the study with Ruixue Jia from the University of California San Diego and Tong Liu from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Study finds that improvements made to the healthcare system in post-SARS Hong Kong led to fewer cardio-respiratory deaths caused by air pollution.
As patients with COVID-19 crowd hospitals throughout the world, the pandemic is exposing weaknesses in the healthcare systems of many countries. Will governments learn from these failings and make improvements in the years to come? And, if they do, what far-reaching benefits could those improvements have? Hong Kong offers answers to both questions. A study of Hong Kong before and after the 2003 SARS epidemic finds that cardio-respiratory deaths caused by heavy air pollution dropped significantly after the epidemic, even as pollution levels remained largely unchanged. The authors of the study, in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, attribute the improvement to major healthcare reforms made in the wake of the SARS crisis.
“It can take a new magnitude of tragedy to expose failings in our healthcare systems, but these moments also shed light on opportunities to improve, having results that can multiply many times over,” says Guojun He, research director at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in China (EPIC China) and a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
In 2003, nearly three hundred people in Hong Kong died of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) brought on by the emergence of a novel coronavirus. During the SARS epidemic, daily life changed significantly. Most people avoided going outside, and those who did donned a mask. Hospitals became overcrowded and lacked much of what was needed to keep people safe. This experience is eerily familiar to life for billions of people today.
When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in late 2019, Hong Kong fared relatively well. Similar in population to New York City—and with 50 times more travelers from mainland China each year—Hong Kong had about 1,040 cases of COVID-19 and just 4 deaths as of May 1, 2020. New York City had 169,690 cases about 18,400 deaths.
Hong Kong’s success stems largely from the numerous improvements it made to its healthcare system following SARS: It revamped intensive care units, adopted improved infection control practices, launched massive staff training programs, and enhanced community-based services, among other changes. Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents became used to wearing masks to travel and live, which can greatly reduce the infectivity of the virus.
“These improvements in our healthcare system don’t just help in times of epidemics, they help every day, and that’s clear when studying what—in many cities—is an everyday killer: air pollution,” He says. “We were curious how it could be that people living in Hong Kong had the longest life expectancy in the world, and yet air pollution was still a problem here. We discovered that it was because people were getting a better standard of care. They were living through strokes and heart attacks—cardio-respiratory diseases that can kill within an hour—because they were getting to the hospital in time and being treated in revamped facilities.”
He and his co-authors found that while there were no dramatic improvements in air quality in Hong Kong after SARS, the amount of cardio-respiratory deaths linked to air pollution declined. Pre-SARS, a 10-unit increase in the Air Pollution Index led to a 3 percent increase in cardio-respiratory deaths. During the post-SARS periods, that same air pollution increase led to fewer cardio-respiratory deaths. The number of deaths became statistically insignificant using more recent data. Meanwhile, other factors that could have prevented cardio-respiratory diseases—such as fewer people smoking or more people using masks and air purifiers—remained largely constant.
As another way to check the importance of high-quality medical service, He and his co-authors further compared the impacts of air pollution on cardio-respiratory deaths that occurred to people living close to hospitals versus those living further away from hospitals, and found those living close to a hospital had a much smaller risk.
The study—the first to show that improving healthcare systems can mitigate the impacts of air pollution—offers a roadmap for cities around the world that are experiencing the rising air pollution that so often accompanies rising incomes. Even in places like Hong Kong, where local governments do not have jurisdiction over the most important sources of local pollution, they can still take steps to mitigate its effects on their people.
“There are many tools governments should use to reduce pollution and the impacts of that pollution on citizens’ health,” He says. “Improving healthcare systems is another tool to add to the arsenal, and one that can deliver far-reaching benefits.”
From the support for a carbon tax and the benefits of reducing air pollution to the efficiency of renewable portfolio standards, EPIC faculty research has shed new light on some of the most crucial topics in energy this year. Often times, these insights are best illustrated through data presented in easy-to-digest charts.
So, we’ve put together ten of our favorites from 2019.
#1 – Extreme Heat Due to Climate Change Projected to Increase the Death Toll in India by 2100
Full Mortality Risk of Climate Change in 2100
Full mortality risk of climate change in 2100 under a high emissions (RCP 8.5) scenario. Red areas are those with a projected increase in mortality, while blue areas are those with a projected decrease. Averages for each location are shown on the map. Histograms for selected cities show the full distribution of risk for those locations. Source: Climate Change and Heat-Induced Mortality in India, White Paper, October 2019
In 2019, countries around the world experienced yet another year of record hot temperatures. Against this now-familiar backdrop, the Climate Impact Lab and Tata Centre for Development released a report showing that there would be eight times more extremely hot days per year in India in 2100, causing an 11% increase above the current death rates from all causes. Heat-related deaths would be happening as often as deaths from all infectious diseases in India today under this continued high emissions path.
#2 – Renewable Portfolio Standards Reduce Carbon Emissions—But, at a High Cost
Source: Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Deliver? BFI Working Paper, April 2019
How do Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) stack up as a climate policy? EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and postdoctoral scholar Ishan Nath compared states with and without RPS policies and found that the programs significantly increased electricity prices, with prices rising by 11 percent seven years after the policy became law and 17 percent twelve years afterwards. And, while the programs do increase renewable generation—and in turn reduce carbon emissions—they do so at a high cost. The RPS states saved up to 175 million tons of carbon emissions seven years afterwards. The cost of reducing those emissions was more than $130 per ton of carbon abated.
#3 – Allotting Oil Drilling Leases Through Auctions Can Increase Industry Output and Landowner Revenue
Gains from Using Auctions Over Private Negotiations
Source: Relinquishing Riches: Auctions vs Informal Negotiations in Texas Oil and Gas Leasing, BFI Working Paper, April 2019
While oil and gas companies have relentlessly improved the efficiency of their wells, an inefficient market for mineral leases—which are concluded in informal and decentralized negotiations rather than centralized auctions—holds back efficiency, according to findings by Thomas Covert, an assistant professor at the Booth School of Business. Covert and his coauthor compared thousands of auctioned and negotiated leases and discovered that auctioned leases do a better job at matching landowners to the most efficient firms. Auctions pay landowners 43 percent more in up front payments. They also produce 58 percent more oil and gas for industry–meaning even more money in the pockets of landowners through higher royalty payments.
#4 – Indians Breathing Most Polluted Air Could Live 3 Years Longer With New Policy
Life Expectancy Gain From Achieving 25% PM2.5 Reduction Target Under NCAP
Source: India’s ‘War Against Pollution’: An Opportunity for Longer Lives, AQLI Report, January 2019
In January 2019, the Indian government announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which aims to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 percent from 2017 levels by 2024. Utilizing the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts particulate pollution into its impact on life expectancy, EPIC researchers explored how much longer people in India would live if pollution were reduced by 25 percent—the midpoint of the NCAP’s goal. The researchers discovered that residents living in India’s most polluted areas could live almost 3 years longer if these reductions were made and sustained. The average Indian could live 1.3 years longer.
#5 – Delays in Banning Wildlife Trade Put Hundreds of Species at Risk
Source: Long Delays In Banning Trade In Threatened Species, Science, February 2019
The large helmeted hornbill bird was commonly found in the wild in 2012. Three years later, it was close to extinction due to overharvesting. Thousands of species face the same risk because of a policy process that responds too slowly to scientific knowledge. Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at Harris Public Policy, analyzed the scientific community’s endangered “Red List” and found trade restrictions are missing for 28 percent of the species. Two-thirds of species wait close to or more than two decades to be protected. Meanwhile, 36 percent of those protected from trade are not classified as needing protection by the scientific community, perhaps because of information gaps and staffing constraints.
#6 – Many Say They Support a Carbon Tax, But Not Many are Willing to See Their Electricity Bills Rise
Source: 2019 EPIC/AP-NORC Public Opinion Poll
In EPIC’s annual public opinion poll with AP-NORC, 67 percent said they would support a carbon tax if the revenue went towards restoring the environment and 59 percent said they would support one if the funding went towards renewable energy R&D. These findings appear to run counter to the conventional wisdom about the most politically appealing version of a carbon tax and to recent efforts by the federal government to step back from environmental protection, with 49 percent and 45 percent, respectively, saying they would support a tax if they received a tax rebate or the revenue would reduce the deficit. At the same time, 43 percent are unwilling to pay anything out of their electricity bill to combat climate change.
#7 – Millions in Developing Countries Lack Access to Electricity. The Reason May be the Belief that Electricity is a Right
Access to Electricity and Transmission and Distribution (T&D) Losses
Each point represents one country and year, for all 142 countries and years from 1990-2014 for which data are available. The local linear regression and histogram of access to electricity are both weighted by country population. T&D losses are defined as the percent of electricity generated by all power sources (in kWh) that is not billed to any consumer. Access data was originally gathered from household surveys and T&D data are originally from national energy agencies.
Source: Electrifying India May Require Convincing People Power Is Something Worth Paying For, Forbes, December 2019
Why do more than 800 million people live without access to reliable energy? EPIC researchers posit that the cause lies in a deep-rooted social norm that electricity is a right and not a private good that must be paid for. As a result, a vicious cycle is created where customers don’t pay, the state limits power, and customers are even less willing to pay for unreliable power. This dynamic shows up in the relationship between global electricity losses and supply data. As the chart shows, as countries connect more and more households to the grid, losses steadily rise. Then, a tipping point occurs after which there is a move towards high-quality supply, universal access and low losses. The challenge before developing countries is to cross over this tipping point.
#8 – With Climate Change, Farmers Dig Deeper For Water
Well Depth in California, 1980-2018
Source: Amid Climate-Linked Drought, Farmers Turn to New Water Sources. Those Are Drying Up Too, Forbes, July 2019
As climate change makes already-warm summers even hotter, farmers are grappling with how to keep their crops healthy. Increasingly, they are turning to irrigation, which could become a problem as their adaptation to heat exacerbates another major consequence of climate change—water scarcity. Using California as a case study, Fiona Burlig, an assistant professor at Harris Public Policy, and her coauthor found that when farmers’ surface water runs out, they are turning to groundwater—digging deeper and deeper wells to get the water they need. As wells become deeper, the price of a gallon of groundwater rises. Because water is an essential input into California crops, these price increases have the potential to raise food prices across the country.
#9 – Evidence is in: Lobbying Crushed Climate Bill’s Hopes
Waxman–Markey Lobbying Spending and Change in Firm Value
Source: The Social Cost of Lobbying Over Climate Policy, Nature Climate Change, May 2019
While economists stand by carbon pricing as the most efficient way to reduce emissions, it has proven to be politically challenging. Yet, a decade ago, the United States nearly passed a cap-and-trade program with Waxman-Markey. Why did it fail? Ashwin Rode, a scientific research director at EPIC and the Climate Impact Lab, measured the effect the bill’s passage would have had on the stock prices of the companies that lobbied for or against it. He discovered that the more firms anticipated to gain or lose, the more they spent, and the firms that stood to lose were more effective. Rode and his co-author calculated that Waxman-Markey had a 55 percent chance of passing in the absence of corporate lobbying. With the lobbying efforts, its chances dropped to 42 percent.
#10 – Do the Rural Poor Want Solar Microgrids? An Experiment Digs In
Demand Curve for Microgrid Solar
The chart shows the share of sample households that paid for the solar microgrid at three different time intervals (represented by the three lines), and their demand for it at three different prices (represented by the dots).
Source: Demand for Electricity in a Poor Economy, Working Paper, August 2019
Rapid innovations that have reduced the price of solar panels have become a promising way of bringing light to the rural poor. But do these households want to buy in? EPIC’s Michael Greenstone and Anant Sudarshan, and their colleagues, studied this question over four years in India’s state of Bihar. Solar microgrids proved relatively unpopular. At unsubsidized prices, demand was nearly zero. Providing a subsidy that cut prices in half increased demand by 17 percent, but over time these customers stopped paying as the microgrids received competition from a growing grid. The authors suggest that decentralized solar does have value, but principally as a fall-back and transition technology, and that home solar systems have significantly greater adoption than microgrids.
The collaboration’s first call for proposals yielded interest in a wide range of key issues.
The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) are proud to announce the first research grants from the EPIC-UCAS Joint Center for Energy Policy Research in China. Formed in January 2019, the EPIC-UCAS Joint Center supports the development of research-based insights on key energy and environmental issues in China.
The six awards from the Joint Center’s first call for proposals will directly support new research on a wide range of issues, from policies to incentivize the scaling of renewable energy and the environmental and economic effects of an air pollution alert system to the economic and environmental benefits of heating price reform.
“We’re thrilled to turn our collaboration with UCAS into concrete projects that promise to deliver insights into and solutions for some of China’s most important energy and environmental questions,” says Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of EPIC. “The research projects we are initiating today will combine data-driven, high-quality economics research from University of Chicago faculty with the world-class innovative engineering expertise those at UCAS can provide.”
Of the projects, Choon Fong Shih, the senior advisor to the president of UCAS, says, “In working together on this rich portfolio of research, we will combine the prominent engineering expertise of UCAS with the University of Chicago’s global leadership in economic analysis. In melding these two perspectives, we will have the ability to produce cutting-edge solutions that could never be discovered individually.”
The six research awards will go to:
Yanfen WANG (UCAS); Xi LU (Tsinghua University); Choon Fong SHIH (UCAS) to study clean energy alternatives in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau;
Kevin Mo (UChicago), Xing Huang (UChicago), Choon Fong Shih (UCAS) to study incentive policies to scale renewable energy;
Fiona Burlig (UChicago), Michael Greenstone (UChicago), Guojun He (UChicago/HKUST Hong Kong University of Science and Technology [HKUST]), Koichiro Ito (UChicago), Shaoda Wang (UChicago), Zifa Wang (UCAS) to study the effects of the Air Pollution Alert System;
Michael Greenstone (UChicago), Guojun He (UChicago/HKUST), and Shaoda Wang (UChicago) to study double-random inspections and their impacts on emission abatement costs;
Michael Greenstone (UChicago), Guojun He (UChicago/HKUST), Shaoda Wang (UChicago), Zifa Wang (UCAS) to study the effect of improved monitoring data on firm production and emission outcomes; and
Koichiro Ito (UChicago) and Shuang Zhang (University of Colorado-Boulder) to study the economic and environmental benefits of heating price reform in China.
Residents would see their lifespans extended by 2.4 years if pollution reductions are sustained, new analysis shows.
As China marks its four-year anniversary of declaring “war against pollution,” a new analysis using data from more than 200 government monitors throughout the country finds air pollution has decreased across the board in China’s most populated areas. Cities on average have cut concentrations of fine particulates (PM2.5)—widely considered the deadliest form of air pollution—by 32 percent in just four years.
“The data is in—China is winning its war against pollution,” says Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), who conducted the analysis. “By winning this war, China is due to see dramatic improvements in the overall health of its people, including longer lifespans, if these improvements are sustained.”
The most populated cities saw some of the greatest declines: Beijing cut air pollution by 35 percent; Shijiazhuang, the Hebei Province’s capital city, cut pollution by 39 percent; and Baoding, China’s most polluted city as of 2015, cut pollution by 38 percent. If China sustains these reductions, Greenstone finds that residents would see their lifespans extended by 2.4 years on average. The roughly 20 million residents in Beijing would live 3.3 years longer, while those in Shijiazhuang and Baoding would add 5.3 years and 4.5 years onto their lives, respectively. These improvements in life expectancy would be experienced by people of all ages, not just the young and old.
The analysis is the first in a series highlighting pollution challenges and improvements globally, drawing from the method underlying the Air Quality Life Index™, which EPIC introduced last year and plans to fully release in the coming months. The Air Quality Life Index, also known as AQLI™, shows the potential gain in life expectancy communities could see if their pollution concentrations are brought into compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) or national standards. It is based on two studies conducted by Greenstone and co-authors that convert PM2.5 concentrations into their impact on lifespans (more here and here).
Notably, while China has seen a marked improvement in air pollution, their levels still exceed these global and national standards, as the AQLI shows. Bringing the entire country into compliance with its own standards would increase average life expectancies by another 1.7 years, in the areas where data is available. Complying with WHO standards instead would yield 4.1 years.
“China has taken aggressive, and in some cases extraordinary, measures to reduce its pollution in a relatively short time span—from prohibiting new coal-fired power plants in the most polluted regions to physically removing the coal boilers used for winter heating from many homes and businesses,” Greenstone says. “This approach, which has relied heavily on requiring specific actions as opposed to more efficient market-based mechanisms, has imposed its share of costs on the Chinese economy. There is a great opportunity to facilitate the urgent need for continued rapid economic growth and achieve further reductions in pollution by embracing market-based approaches to regulation, like pollution taxes and cap-and-trade markets for pollution.”
New joint institute will study Chinese energy and environmental policy issues.
The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) announced today the formation of a new research collaboration with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) that will support a wide range of areas of interest between Chinese researchers and faculty from the University of Chicago focused on energy and environmental issues and policies. To mark the announcement, representatives of the University of Chicago and UCAS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a joint event in Beijing.
“We believe this historic and exciting partnership between the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Chicago has great potential to advance fundamental understanding and its applications in the months and years ahead,” said University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer. “I am very confident that together we will make advances on some of the world’s most critical challenges that neither of us could do individually.”
The five-year collaboration aims to generate fresh insights into pressing energy and environmental challenges, offering Chinese policymakers new tools to tackle important priorities such as cost-effective reductions in air pollution.
Of the collaboration, UCAS President Shushen LI said: “We are excited to form this historic partnership and to pursue this important work. Our relationship combines the prominent engineering expertise of UCAS with the University of Chicago’s global leadership in economic analysis. Working together, I believe these two perspectives have the ability to produce new ideas and solutions that might not exist otherwise. It is truly exciting.”
The announcement came during the Mandarin launch of EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), a first-of-its-kind tool that allows policymakers to quantify the benefits of air pollution reduction measures by converting them into the most important metric that exists: improvements in life expectancy. The AQLI is based on a pair of peer-reviewed studies co-authored by EPIC Director Michael Greenstone that quantify the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to particulate pollution and life expectancy. Greenstone and his co-authors were able to draw this causal relationship thanks to a well-intentioned home heating policy in China that contributed to higher pollution in the north.
Greenstone’s more than two decades of research on energy and environmental issues in China and other parts of the world, along with research being conducted by other University of Chicago faculty such as Koichiro Ito, helped forge the roots of the new UCAS collaboration.
“Many of the most urgent energy challenges today are in China, where almost 1.5 billion people are trying to balance the need for inexpensive and reliable energy with the health and climate consequences of their energy choices,” said Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, the College, and the Harris School. “Our partnership aims to conduct frontier scientific research that also identifies efficient solutions to these energy challenges that can aid policymakers in China and other parts of the world.”
EPIC is an affiliate of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics (BFI), which launched BFI-China in 2018 to bring the rigor of Chicago Economics to numerous challenges facing the Chinese economy through a range of partnerships with leading Chinese research institutions. BFI announced a separate collaboration with Tsinghua University in November 2018 to form the Tsinghua University–University of Chicago Joint Research Center for Economics and Finance.
Guojun He talks about his research linking air pollution and life expectancy.
By: Kate Whiting
The Huai River is fed by tributaries high in China’s Tongbai Mountains and Dabie Mountains, and meanders 660 miles across Henan and Anhui provinces before it flows into Lake Hongze in Jiangsu province.
Historically, the river provided water for farmers’ crops on either side, with livelihoods growing up around it. On each bank today, people have a similar quality of life.
But those who live north of the river have a lower life expectancy – up to three years less – than those on its southern banks. The reason? Exposure to higher levels of pollution caused by burning free coal for winter fuel.
So discovered Professor Guojun He and his colleagues when they looked at the health impact of China’s Huai River Policy, which, since the 1950s, has been giving free or subsidized coal to residents living north of the river…
…Here, the assistant professor of Economics, Environment and Sustainability, and Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), whose work has been used to develop the air quality life index (AQLI), talks us through his research into China’s air quality and explains why pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks facing humanity…
Continue Reading at World Economic Forum…
Michael Greenstone is quoted on China’s manufacturing and environmental pollution.
By Xiaohua Li
Premier Li Keqiang has vowed in his government work report on March 5 that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions will be cut in 2019 by 3 percent, and that there will be a continuous decline in PM2.5 density in key areas. The government also vows to accelerate the pace of forestation, and to plant 6.67 million hectares of trees each year so as to increase its forest coverage rate to 26 percent by the year 2035.
As one of the people who applaud China’s anti-pollution efforts, Michael Greenstone, the University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute, said, “It took about a dozen years and a recession for the United States to achieve the same percentage reduction in particulate pollution that China has achieved in such a short time.”
Despite this praise, China needs to strike a delicate balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability as it sets its lower yet still robust economic growth target at 6.0 to 6.5 percent. This will not only benefit China but the world as a whole
Continue Reading at China Daily..
Michael Greenstone is the only foreign expert cited by China’s report on the new government’s achievements in environmental pollution prevention and control.
(We will) establish a cooperative mechanism, introduce supporting policies, carry out centralized management, strengthen special law enforcement, initiate emergency responses, and increase public participation… China has acted swiftly as a whole to fight against pollution so that blue skies and clean water are no longer luxuries.
“Historically, we have not found examples of other countries that can significantly reduce pollution in such a short period of time,” said Michael Greenstone, an American economist who has long studied global energy policy.
Continue Reading at Xinhua Daily Telegraph…
Mentions findings from EPIC showing that if improvements in air quality continue life expectancy will increase.
By: Bailey Hu
How does the average Chinese person feel about air quality today? It’s a question that seems even more pressing nowadays considering that in 2018, China appeared to slow down in its aggressive, government-led “war against air pollution.”
Previously, online popular opinion had kicked off a years-long struggle to control one of the most visible environmental issues spawned by China’s rapid industrialization. Air pollution has been an area where prominent netizens’ feelings have actively shaped official response; as environmental progress flags due to various factors, social media may once again come into play.
Despite a temporary setback, China has made significant progress in cutting down on smog. In March 2018, the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute released a report titled, “Is China winning the war against air pollution?”
Continue Reading at Technode…
China’s news agency writes about EPIC’s collaboration with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Mandarin launch of the AQLI.
The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) has forged a 5-year research collaboration with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS).
The five-year collaboration aims to generate fresh insights into pressing energy and environmental challenges, offering Chinese policymakers new tools to tackle important priorities such as cost-effective reductions in air pollution.
Representatives of UChicago and UCAS have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on this recently.
The collaboration came on the heels of the Mandarin launch of EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), a first-of-its-kind tool that allows policymakers to quantify the benefits of air pollution reduction measures by converting them into the most important metric that exists: improvements in life expectancy.
Continue Reading at Xinhua…
Introducing EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index China Report, which shows that China’s air quality has improved significantly.
By Zhou Mingyang
Recently, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago released its latest research results in Beijing, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), and the Air Quality Life Index China Report. Michael Greenstone, project leader and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said that AQLI is based on two peer-reviewed studies that quantify the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to particulate pollution and life expectancy, directly converting the fine particulate pollution in the air into its impact on people’s life expectancy.
“The index used before, such as the well-known air quality index, marked the air quality as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but most people couldn’t understand the actual impact of pollution on human health,” said Greenstone. AQLI achieved a new breakthrough in this. AQLI shows that the average human exposure to fine particulate air pollution has reduced life expectancy by nearly two years compared to the safety level recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, in the living area of 75% of the world’s population, the concentration of fine particulate is higher than the WHO guidelines.
The AQLI index shows that if the concentration of fine particulates in a region declines, the life expectancy of the population in the region will increase. Based on daily monitoring data from more than 200 monitors between 2013 and 2017, the air quality in China’s densely populated areas has improved significantly, ranging from 21% to 42%. AQLI also found that the air pollution level of fine particulates in 2016 was down 12% from 2013.
Greenstone said that if these improvements can be maintained, the average life expectancy of Chinese urban residents will be 2.3 years longer than in 2013. Although there is still a long way to go to meet the WHO air quality standards, China is striving to win the “battle for more blue skies” – once the WHO guidelines are met, the life expectancy of the nation will increase by 2.9 years.
Continue Reading at Economic Daily…
Introducing EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) launched in Beijing and explaining the relationship between air pollution and life expectancy.
By Li He
The health hazards of fine particulates (PM2.5) have been gradually recognized. China launched a war against pollution in early 2014. In 2016, the PM2.5 level was down 12% compared with the level in 2013. The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), recently released by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in Beijing, shows that this reduction is equivalent to an extension of the average life expectancy of Chinese residents by 6 months.
Why is the health impact of PM2.5 pollution so great? “The main reason is that residents living in polluted areas have nowhere to go to avoid air pollution,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). “You may quit smoking, and diseases can be prevented. But no one can stop breathing, so the impact of air pollution on people’s life is greater than any other factor. Currently, 75% of the world’s population, or 5.5 billion people, live in areas where PM2.5 exceeds WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines.
The “Air Quality Life Index” is the conversion of PM2.5 concentrations into their impact on life expectancy. Developed by a team of researchers at EPIC, the index is based on two peer-reviewed studies that quantify the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to particulate pollution and life expectancy to help the public and decision makers understand the importance of anti-air pollution policies.
The “Air Quality Life Index” released shows that developing and industrializing countries in Asia are most affected by PM2.5 pollution. If the WHO-guided safety standards are met, the average life expectancy of Indians will increase by 4.3 years, while in China it will increase 2.9 years from 76 to 79 years. About one-third of the population of the United States lives in areas that do not meet WHO guidelines. If the target is met, life expectancy in the most polluted areas is expected to increase by one year.
“China’s efforts to deal with air pollution are part of the global anti-pollution initiative,” said Greenstone. The concentration of pollution in several key areas of China has fallen much faster than the national average, bringing more benefits to local residents. For example, Tianjin, one of China’s three most polluted cities in 2013, saw particulate pollution drop by 14 percent in 2016. If sustained, this would mean a 1.2-year gain in average life expectancy for its 13 million residents, compared with 2013. The results were most impressive in Henan province, where the exposure time of residents to PM2.5 pollution is 20% lower than that in 2013, which is equivalent to an increase in average life expectancy of 1.3 years.
“China’s efforts in air pollution control have achieved results in recent years. Satellite data shows that as of 2016, the PM2.5 concentration has decreased by more than 10%. More new data shows that the reduction may be even greater in recent years,” Greenstone said, “If this momentum can be maintained, Chinese residents will live a healthier, longer life.”
Continue Reading at Technology Daily…
Details findings from the AQLI showing particulate pollution was down 12 percent in 2016 in China.
By: Jay Birbeck
Almost five-years into the “war against pollution,” Chinese policymakers have made considerable progress in reducing levels of air pollution, according to findings released by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).
Using satellite data, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) found that levels of small particulate air pollution across China were down 12 percent in 2016 compared to 2013 levels.
Overall, these findings amount to an additional six months in life expectancy for the average Chinese citizen. However, certain regions yielded even more dramatic results. Tianjin, one of China’s three most polluted cities for some time, saw particulate pollution drop by 14 percent in 2016. If sustained, this would mean a 1.2-year gain in life expectancy for the city’s inhabitants, compared with 2013. The results were most impressive in Henan province, where life expectancy increased by 1.3 years, due to a twenty percent reduction in particulate pollution.
Continue Reading at China.org…
Points to the AQLI finding that the country could add 2.9 years to life expectancy by meeting WHO standards.
By: Muyu Xu and David Stanway
China could raise average life expectancy by 2.9 years if it improves air quality to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), according a new study from a U.S. research group.
China has vowed to determine the precise impact of air and water pollution on health as part of its efforts to raise average life expectancy to 79 years by 2030 from 76.3 years in 2015.
According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), big air quality improvements made in the last five years have already been enough to push up average lifespans.
Continue Reading at Reuters…
Special report recapping the 40 years’ reform and opening up cites EPIC’s report on pollution.
According to a report released by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) on March 12, China still has a long way to go to meet international air quality standards, but research shows that “China is winning the war against pollution.” An analysis using daily data from more than 200 monitors throughout the country between 2013 and 2017 finds that the concentration of fine particulates (PM2.5) has been reduced by 32 percent on average in just four years.” If China sustains these reductions, the average life expectancy of Chinese residents will increase by 2.4 years.”
Beijing cut air pollution by 35 percent, and Baoding, China’s most polluted city as of 2015, cut pollution by 38 percent. Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said, “I’m unaware of any country achieving such large reductions in pollution in such a short period of time. It’s great.”
Continue Reading at Outlook Weekly…
Mentions work by EPIC showing the progress China has made in reducing pollution.
By: Lilu Kuo
China’s environment ministry has said the number of sources of pollution in the country has increased by more than half in less than a decade.
Releasing preliminary results of an ongoing “environmental census”, China’s ministry of ecology and environment said the number of sources of pollution in the country stands at about 9m, compared to 5.9m in its first census, in 2010…
…China has made some important gains. Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, analysed data from government air monitors collected between 2013 and 2017, and found that many of China’s densest cities have recorded major declines in air pollution.
Continue Reading at The Guardian…
EPIC’s Michael Greenstone is quoted on the opportunity for China to continue its progress in reducing air pollution.
By: Emily Feng
Long renowned for its thick industrial haze, China’s capital has over the winter enjoyed more frequent blue skies.
Beijing’s average concentration of airborne PM2.5 levels — tiny particulates that are especially damaging to human health — fell more than a fifth last year, suggesting that China’s willingness to move heavy industry outside the city and cut its reliance on coal is having a positive environmental impact.
However, air pollution levels in Beijing have always closely tracked economic planning, hinting that the respite from the smog is only temporary — a concern that has been compounded by a run of smoggy days in the capital this month after winter pollution controls were lifted.
“China’s efforts to reduce pollution in the past several years have been remarkable,” said Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute in Chicago. “The questions going forward are whether . . . they will turn to regulatory approaches that better facilitate the urgent need for continued robust economic growth.”
Continue Reading at Financial Times…
China’s news agency highlights comments made by Michael Greenstone detailing the country’s progress in reducing pollution and opportunities for further improvement.
While praising China’s success in reducing pollution, a University of Chicago (UChicago) professor said Wednesday that further pollution reductions are necessary in China.
Michael Greenstone, director of Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told Xinhua in an interview that the measures taken by the Chinese government over the past four years have been extraordinarily successful in reducing air pollution. “I’m unaware of any country achieving such large reductions in pollution in such a short period of time.”
At the same time, “substantial further reductions are necessary to bring many parts of China into compliance with the country’s own particulates standards or, more ambitiously, with World Health Organization standards,” Greenstone said.
Greenstone holds that the challenges China faces in the next step is to find the right balance between economic growth and environmental protection. China “has taken a top-down approach to this challenge by generally directing emissions reductions in specific industries and regions, which is a costly approach.”
Continue Reading at Xinhua…
Highlights EPIC’s report showing citizens can expect to see their lifespans increase by 2.4 years relative to 2013 levels thanks to improvements in air quality.
By Echo Huang
In 2014, China’s premier Li Keqiang declared war on air pollution. With many cities routinely experiencing an ”airpocalypse,” it was long overdue. At one point in 2013, a children’s hospital in Beijing was treating 7,000-plus patients a day for respiratory ailments. Researchers found that people’s lifespans could be shortened by more than five years in areas that relied heavily on coal, a major contributor of deadly air pollutants.
Four years later, China has made significant progress on fighting air pollution.
The nation’s air quality has improved so significantly in recent years that citizens can expect to see their lifespan increase by 2.4 years relative to 2013 levels, according to a report published yesterday (March 12) by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
Continue Reading at Quartz…
EPIC’s Michael Greenstone writes about new research that gives estimates on the longer lives that are now possible in the country.
By: Michael Greenstone
On March 4, 2014, the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, told almost 3,000 delegates at the National People’s Congress and many more watching live on state television, “We will resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty.”
The statement broke from the country’s longstanding policy of putting economic growth over environment, and many wondered whether China would really follow through.
Four years after that declaration, the data is in: China is winning, at record pace. In particular, cities have cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32 percent on average, in just those four years.
The speed of the anti-pollution drive has raised important questions about its human costs. But if China sustains these reductions, recent research by my colleagues and me indicates that residents will see significant improvements to their health, extending their life spans by months or years.
Continue Reading at the New York Times…
China’s news agency reports on a recent study by EPIC researchers showing the impact improved air quality has had on life expectancy.
China is winning its war on pollution after four years of struggle, a U.S. study said on Monday.
Concentrations of fine particulates in Chinese cities have decreased by an average rate of 32 percent since 2014, according to a research done by professors at the University of Chicago.
Data from nearly 250 Chinese official monitor agencies was analyzed with positive findings.
“The data is in-China is winning its war against pollution,” said Michael Greenstone who conducted the analysis and works as director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).
Continue Reading at Xinhua…
Introducing the Huaihe River Policy and Health Costs through EPIC’s report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Feng Hao
The “Huai River Policy” has continued to this day for more than half a century. Hundreds of millions of northern urban residents enjoy stable and affordable heating services, while southern residents can only use the air conditioners, electric heaters, electric blankets and other means to survive the winter, and there is no subsidy. The fact that whether there is heating or not even affects some Chinese people’s choice of working city.
However, according to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the northern residents who enjoyed the warm winter also paid a heavy health price. The study pointed out that due to decades of large-scale coal-fired heating which caused air pollution and health problems, the average life expectancy of northern residents living in central heating districts is 3.1 years less than that in the south.
The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the United States, Israel, and Hong Kong, China, to quantify the relationship between respirable particulate matter concentration and life expectancy, and the variables studied were the North-South differences in China’s “Huai River Policy.” According to a research, from the south bank of the Huai River to the north bank, there is a sharp increase in air pollution. Specifically, under the influence of the heating subsidy policy, compared with the south of the Huai River, the concentration of PM10 in the north of the Huai River is 41.7 μg/m3 higher, the life expectancy is shortened by 3.1 years, and the mortality rate of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases is increased by 37%. .
Guojun He, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that the research is not a criticism of the heating policy itself, or a suggestion that central heating should be eliminated. The study did not propose specific policy recommendations. However, in recent years, many areas have carried out measures such as “coal to gas” and “coal to electricity” to reduce air pollution during the heating period. These are positive changes. In the long run, these changes will bring great health and benefit improvements.
Continue Reading at China Daily…
Clarifying the controversy caused by EPIC’s study “Three years’ life difference between the north and south of the Huai River heating line.”
By Lin Xiaochun Lin
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published the latest research report on the air quality difference between the north and south of the Huai River Heating Line and its impact on life expectancy. According to the report, in the area near the north and south of the Huai River heating line, the long-term exposure level of PM10 (inhalable particulate matter) in the north is about 46% higher than that in the south, and the life expectancy of northern residents is about 3.1 years less than that in the south. How did this conclusion come out? Is the research reliable? Xinhua Daily Telegraph interviewed the researchers and some domestic and foreign experts in relevant fields.
Guojun He, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Maoyong Fan, an associate professor of economics at the Ball State University, USA, participated in the study. Before the paper was officially published, Guojun He and Maoyong Fan emphasized in an e-mail: “Our findings may easily cause a misunderstanding that ‘the heating policy has led to a reduction in the life expectancy of northerners, so central heating should be scrapped”, But this is wrong. If there were no central heating in cold northern areas, people would rely on burning coal to heat up, which would lead to more serious air pollution and more damage to health.”
The study predicts that if the PM10 concentrations across China can meet the national Class I standard of 40μg/m3, the average life expectancy will increase by about 3 years. The two authors pointed out that in recent years measures such as “coal to gas” and “coal to electricity” have been taken in many areas in China to reduce air pollution during the heating period. At the same time, environmental regulation in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has become more stringent. “We believe that these positive changes will bring significant improvements in the health and welfare of Chinese people in the long run.”
Continue Reading at Xinhua Daily Telegraph…
The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) are excited to invite applications for full-time research assistants (RAs) for the academic year 2020-2021.
These positions will be hosted by the EPIC-UCAS Joint Research Center for Energy and Environmental Policy in China. The Joint Center was established in 2019 as a ground-breaking effort to produce cost-effective solutions to some of China’s most important energy and environmental policy issues. The Joint Center produces data-driven, tested research insights in partnership with local, regional, and national governments to ensure that the right questions are being asked, solutions are tested on the ground and rigorously measured, and results can be scaled up into successful policies.
The RAs will report to Michael Greenstone (University of Chicago), Guojun He (HKUST), and Shaoda Wang (University of Chicago). The RAs will get involved in multiple China-related research projects that focus on assessing the benefits and costs of environmental policies. Typical research projects utilize quasi-experimental and experimental methods with an emphasis on identifying policy-relevant parameters. Responsibilities of the RAs span all stages of research, including managing projects, collecting and analysing data, creating slides, drafting working papers, and generating policy briefs. In addition to assisting the PIs’ research, the RAs will have the opportunity to use Joint Center datasets and collaborate with the PIs on new research projects.
The program is intended to serve as a bridge between college and graduate school for students interested in economics research. Priorities will be given to students who will apply for PhD programs in world-leading institutions upon completion.
- Applicants must have completed a bachelor or master degree by June 2020 and are interested in applying for graduate schools in world-leading institutions.
- Applicants should have research interests in causal inference, randomized control trials, environmental economics, and development economics; applicants should have relevant econometrics knowledge.
- Applicants must be familiar with Stata (or similar statistical software) and understand how to collect, manage, and analyse data. Priorities will be given to those who also have Python and ArcGIS experience.
- Applicants should be able to speak and write fluent English; applicants should be able to comprehend research articles in leading economics journals.
- The contract is 1 year and can be extended to 2 years with satisfactory performance.
- Part-time applicants will also be considered and the applicants must have relevant research experience.
What You Can Expect
- Competitive salary (comparable to PhD fellowships in the U.S.)
- Solid research training and advising
- Opportunities to work with leading scholars in the world
- The job is based in Beijing (with possible field work in other Chinese cities)
To apply, complete this form: https://www.wjx.cn/jq/51885384.aspx
The deadline for applying is Jan 15, 2020. We will review the application materials on a rotating basis. Candidates who pass the initial screening will be invited to complete a data task. Final results will be announced on Feb 01, 2020.
If you have any questions, please email Guojun He at firstname.lastname@example.org.