Urban air pollution and inequalities in fast-industrialising countries


This scoping study aimed to investigate the social, economic and political (SEP) impacts of chronic ambient (outdoor) air pollutions on low-income communities in the fast industrialising countries. Its main purpose was to lay the foundation for a large comparative case study of two mega cities, Beijing and Delhi, to understand how the poor people living in these cities are affected by the persistent urban air pollution and how an inclusive policy process can be developed to address these inequalities associated with air pollution.

Project description

We aimed to understand the dynamic and complex relations between ambient air pollution, health and SEP disparities in the mega cities in Beijing and Delhi, and explore the possibility of achieving more inclusive, fair, and accountable regulation system to combat air pollution.

We asked the following questions:

  • In what way and to what extent are the impacts of ambient air pollutions distributed unequally?
  • How does current anti-pollution policy process contribute to these inequalities?
  • What innovative measures or practices are emerging, or can be adopted, to reduce air pollution more equally, and how could such measures and practices be supported by more inclusive institutions?

This research initiative was designed as an inter-disciplinary and multi-methods research project that combined IDS and local experts previously working on environmental politics, human geography, public administration, political economy, and social anthropology. The research helped to reinforce the cooperation between the UK, Chinese and Indian researchers for implementing an ambitious research plan on air pollution and inequality. In addition, local communities and policymakers were engaged with via interviews and workshops organised and led by UK and local researchers.

This research sought to influence local policymakers and change current policies that are often aiming to reduce average pollution levels and health damages, rather than targeting specific groups of people that are particularly vulnerable. In addition, the project aimed to tremendously enhance public awareness of disadvantaged groups' interests, and hopefully, more social organisations and public services would be channelled to reduce SEP disparities. Lastly, China and India as the most polluted and fast-growing economies, their efforts to promote more inclusive and accountable policy system to combat urban air pollution would produce exemplary effects to other highly polluted cities in the global South.

Timeline and funding


February 2018-February 2019



Useful links

The team

Where we worked

Beijing and Delhi.