TROPICAL GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (3): 461-471.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003142

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Impact of Urbanization on Urban Air Quality Based on Spatial Econometric Models

Jiang Lei1, Zhou Haifeng2 and Bai Ling3   

  1. (1. School of Economics, Zhejiang University of Finance & Economics, Hangzhou 310018, China; 2. State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control//School of Environment, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China; 3. School of Economics & Management, Nanchang University, Nanchang 330031, China)
  • Received:2019-01-04 Revised:2019-05-27 Online:2019-05-05 Published:2019-05-05


China has been experiencing rapid urbanization and has also suffered from a serious air pollution problem. Hence, the main aim of this research was to investigate how urbanization affects air pollution in China based on a unique cross-sectional dataset of 289 cities in China for the year 2016. Specifically, we used the Air Quality Index (AQI), an accurate, well-recognized, and comprehensive indicator, to describe urban air pollution and employed nighttime light data to denote urbanization levels. Then, we considered spatial spillover effects and applied spatial lag models to test the impact of urbanization on air pollution. The findings of the study are as follows. From the results of spatial autocorrelation tests for the air pollution of the 289 cities by means of four spatial weights matrices, we observed that the air pollution of the cities exhibited strong spatial clustering. Additionally, according to the results of the spatial lag models, we found that the spatial autoregressive coefficient was statistically significant and positive, indicating that spatial spillover effects were present. In other words, local air quality is affected by the air pollution of neighboring cities. In addition, the variable of urbanization was also found to be significant and positive, implying that urbanization has a positive impact on air pollution. A possible interpretation is that the increase in the level of the urban economy at the early stage of rapid urban sprawl increases built-up areas and subsequently degrades the air quality of the city. The variable of regulation was found to be significant and positive. This was the case because close relationships between governments and enterprises hinder air pollution prevention and control because of lower and laxer environmental regulations to increase the competitive advantages of local firms and contribute to the local economy. However, the environmental awareness variable was found to have a negative impact on the AQI. It is projected that air pollution will be reduced greatly as income levels and environmental awareness continue to increase. Regarding the variable of PM2.5, the primary air pollutant, an increase in PM2.5 concentrations drives up the AQI because the estimated coefficient is significantly positive. Lastly, we observed that the variable of highway freight traffic was highly insignificant. One possible reason for this result is that we lack a satisfactory indicator for this variable. From the above analysis, policy implications based on the findings of the research may be threefold. One is that the trade-off between urbanization development and air quality cannot be overstated because the severe problem of urban air pollution poses a huge threat to the sustainability of China’s cities. The second is that making joint efforts and implementing efficient regional policies by local governments to prevent and control urban air pollution should be the first priority in an attempt to realize long-term and sustainable urban development. The last one is that innovation capacities should be increased and encouraged by local governments through a series of policies, e.g., tax relief, because improvements in the technological levels of cities will promote efficiency of cities and reduce air pollutant emissions, which may help to improve air quality and the environment.

Key words: Air Quality Index, prefecture-level city, urbanization, Spatial Lag Model