EPIC launches effort to study energy and environmental challenges in China

EPIC-China to produce economic research on country’s pressing policy questions

Over the past 30 years, China has harnessed inexpensive, reliable energy to fuel history’s most remarkable economic expansions, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and transforming the global economy. At the same time, this growth has increased emissions that are damaging human health in China and contributing to global warming.

To confront these challenges in China, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago is launching a groundbreaking effort that will combine frontier economics research with key local partnerships to produce tested, scalable policy solutions. Housed at the University of Chicago’s Center in Beijing, EPIC-China will leverage UChicago’s world-class faculty, in addition to researchers on the ground in China.

“China has made unprecedented progress in slashing pollution over the past four years,” said Prof. Michael Greenstone, a leading energy and environmental economist who directs EPIC and the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at UChicago. “But in order to facilitate continued rapid economic growth, the next gains in environmental quality will require deeper focus on efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Alongside our collaborators, EPIC-China will conduct frontier research on how to ensure access to inexpensive and reliable energy while meeting China’s ambitious goals to reduce pollution and confront climate change without unnecessarily compromising economic growth. This work could bring long-lasting benefits not just to China, but to the whole world.” 

EPIC-China builds on a foundation of research in China, including a pair of peer-reviewed studies that, for the first time, quantified the causal relationship between long-term exposure to particulate pollution and life expectancy. Combining these results with hyper-localized, global particulate measurements, Greenstone and his colleagues at EPIC formed the Air Quality Life Index, a metric that converts particulate pollution into its impact on life expectancy and allows users to learn how much longer they could live if pollution in their area is reduced. The Mandarin version of the AQLI was launched at a special event in Beijing earlier this year.

New research projects through EPIC-China will apply EPIC’s successful model for addressing difficult energy and environmental challenges through data-driven, tested research in partnership with local, regional and national collaborators. This model is actively at work in cities and countries around the world, including in India, where EPIC has hosted a team since 2014.

“This new effort in China demonstrates the University’s commitment to producing impactful research insights in the world’s most populous country and one of the world’s most dynamic economies,” said Bala Srinivasan, chief international officer and deputy provost at the University of Chicago.

EPIC-China is part of a broader effort at the University of Chicago to produce new insights on key economic policy issues facing Chinese policymakers today. This work is being led by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics, which serves as a hub for cutting-edge analysis and research across the entire University of Chicago economics community.

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the EPIC website.