From Fog to Smog: the Value of Pollution Information
During 2013-2014, China launched a nationwide, real-time air quality monitoring and disclosure program, a watershed moment in the history of its environmental regulations. We present the first empirical analysis of this natural experiment by exploiting its staggered implementation across cities. The program has transformed the landscape of China’s environmental protection, substantially expanded public access to pollution information, and dramatically increased households’ awareness about pollution issues. These transformations, in turn, triggered a cascade of household behavioral changes, including increases in online searches for pollution-related topics, adjustments in day-to-day consumption patterns to avoid pollution exposure, and higher willingness to pay for housing in less polluted areas. As a result of both short- and long-term behavioral changes, the program reduced the mortality cost of air pollution by nearly 7%. Conservative estimates suggest annual benefits of RMB 130 billion from the program, a figure at least one order of magnitude larger than the costs of the program and associated avoidance behaviors combined. Our findings highlight considerable benefits from improving access to pollution information in developing countries, many of which are experiencing the world’s worst air pollution but do not systematically collect or disseminate pollution information.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26541