If you think it's too expensive to clean up the planet. . . CAS Assistant Professor of International Relations and Environmental Policy Adil Najam sums up what he expects from this week's global warming negotiations in one word: nothing. "Following the U.S. Senate's lead, no country has ratified last year's Kyoto Protocol," he says. "There will be accusations and finger-pointing in Buenos Aires, but little of substance."
Najam says that even if all industrialized countries lived up to their commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, it would result at best in a stabilization of current emission levels, and he calls the efforts to date mere window dressing. Meanwhile, developing countries not covered by the Protocol will continue to increase emissions.
"Why should they cut back when countries who drafted the Protocol aren't abiding by it?" he asks. He calls the Senate's demand that countries producing far fewer emissions also cut back drastically "a stalling tactic that holds the entire treaty process -- and the effort to curb climate change -- hostage to the interests of a few large energy producers."
Najam points out that the world is already below 1990-level emissions, largely because the collapse of the Soviet Union caused its factories to close down. Instead of building on this, industrialized countries have agreed to an emissions trading scheme that can easily degenerate into "creative accounting and trading hot air," he says. "The United States could simply buy the right to pollute at current rates by paying off Russia, which has been allowed to actually increase its emissions from current levels."
Ultimately, industrialized countries must take real steps to reduce emissions. "Without that we will only open ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy," he says. Najam has recently published two papers on the subject, in Environmental Observation, with Thomas Page (GRS'00), a graduate student at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, and in Climactic Change, and he is lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
. . . it isn't. Businesses have long held that complying with stringent environmental regulations will excessively cut into profits. Not so, according to Eli Berman and Linda Bui, CAS assistant professors of economics. They recently studied oil refineries in the Los Angeles basin area, home to some of the worst pollution in the country, during a period of increased environmental regulation.
Their work builds on a related 1996 study in which they showed that another claim against environmental regulation -- extensive job loss -- was unfounded. "We did find that compliance with air quality regulations was initially very expensive for these plants in the L.A. basin," says Berman. "Yet we found no evidence that environmental regulation cost jobs. If anything, air quality regulation probably increased employment slightly."
In their latest study, Berman and Bui found that during a period of increased regulation, between 1987 and 1992, productivity rose sharply in L.A. oil refineries, even as it decreased for refineries in less stringently regulated regions. "No one has done a long-term study like this, which distributes the cost of pollution abatement over years," says Bui. "We discovered that in this case, environmental regulations forced plants to install cleaner, more efficient technologies, and they ended up with a more profitable business in the long run."
Why haven't other refining plants adopted these technologies if they save money? "Companies try to put off compliance because abatement technologies are expensive and possibly because they're risky," says Berman. "Why take a chance when you can wait and see how it worked out in Los Angeles first?"
"We think that official statistics and organizations may severely overestimate the cost of environmental regulation in general," says Bui. "Abatement can be productive, at least in the refining industry, which is a major polluter." Last year the team presented some of its findings to the President's Council on the Environment in Washington, D.C.
Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read
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