Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 71 ›› Issue (8): 1357-1371.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201608006

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Spatio-temporal variations and socio-economic driving forces of air quality in Chinese cities

Xueqin LIN1(), Dai WANG2()   

  1. 1. College of Resources Environment and Tourism, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100048, China
    2. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2016-03-02 Revised:2016-06-01 Online:2016-08-25 Published:2016-08-30
  • Supported by:
    Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41430636;Youth Program of the Humanities and Social Science Research of Ministry of Education, No.16YJC790056


Air pollution is a serious problem brought by the rapid urbanization and economic development in China, imposing great challenges and threats to population health and the sustainability of the society. Based on the real-time air quality monitoring data obtained for each Chinese city from 2013 to 2014, the spatio-temporal characteristics of air pollution are analyzed using various exploratory spatial data analysis tools. With spatial econometric models, this paper further quantifies the influences of social and economic factors on air quality at both the national and regional scales. There are several important findings: (1) During 2013 and 2014, the number of days with air quality meeting the national standard are increasing, but the annual air quality is getting worse, which is evidenced by a significant increase of AQI values during the period (higher AQI values representing worse air quality). There also appear to be substantial regional variations in the sense that air quality tends to be better in the south and east of China compared with the northern and western China. In terms of temporal patterns, air quality in Chinese cities shows significant seasonal variations, with better-than-average air quality observed during summer and autumn while worse-than-average air quality in spring and winter. (2) With respect to the driving forces of air quality variations, energy consumption, industrialization, investment in technology, and economic development (per capita GDP) have been found to be statistically significantly associated with air quality at the national scale. For example, 1% increase in per capita GDP is related to a decrease of about 0.24% in AQI values (thus better air quality), everything else equal. (3) There is great heterogeneity in the driving forces of air quality among different regions. For instance, whilst one unit increase in industrialization rates (that is an increase of one percentage) is associated with 10.4% increase in AQI values at the national scale, the same amount of increase in industrialization rates is associated with 125.5% and 37.5% increases in AQI values in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan areas and the Yangtze River Delta, respectively. Such spatial heterogeneity has also been observed in the associations between air quality and energy consumption, investment in technology and per capita GDP, implying that geography should be taken into account in the future exploration of the relationships between economic development and air quality or general environmental pollution issues and in the design and implementation of government policies targeting air pollution deductions and sustainable development.

Key words: city air quality, spatio-temporal variations, social economy, driving forces, city, China