Outdoor air pollution is a major environmental risk that caused over 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2016. In this article, we investigate how groups with lower social-economic status are disproportionally affected by outdoor air pollution.
Based on a comparative case study of two heavily polluted urban areas around Beijing and Delhi, we find that people’s economic welfare and political rights are affected disproportionally not only by toxic air pollutants, but also through various policy interventions, market activities, and social practices designed to reduce or adapt to air pollution. Drawing on the concepts of environmental justice and just transitions, we present an analytical framework for investigating the links between outdoor air pollution and social inequalities. The framework enables a better understanding of structural constraints, political constraints and protective constraints in the context of outdoor air pollution and their impacts on social vulnerabilities with particular relevance to fast industrialising countries. We also provide recommendations on how to design and implement air pollution policies and social interventions in a socially inclusive manner.