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When does economic development promote mitigation and why?

Zeynep Clulow

Climate Policy, 2018, vol. 18, issue 2, 221-234

Abstract: Is economic development compatible with mitigation? On the one hand, development should promote effective climate policy by enhancing states’ capacities for mitigation. On the other hand, economic growth creates more demand for production, thereby inhibiting emissions reduction. These arguments are often reconciled in the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) thesis. According to this approach, development initially increases emissions in poor economies, but begins to lower emissions after a country has attained a certain level of development.The aim of this article is to determine empirically whether the EKC hypothesis seems plausible in light of emissions trends over the birth and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. Drawing on data from the World Bank World Development Indicators and World Resources Institute Climate Data Explorer, it conducts a large-N investigation of the emissions behaviour of 120 countries from 1990 to 2012. While several quantitative studies have found that economic factors influence emissions activity, this article goes beyond existing research by employing a more sophisticated – multilevel – research design to determine whether economic development: (a) continues to be a significant driver once country-level clustering is accounted for and (b) has different effects on different countries. The results of this article indicate that, even after we account for country-level clustering and hold constant the other main putative drivers of emissions activity, economic development tends to inhibit emissions reduction. They also provide strong evidence that emissions trends resemble the EKC, with development significantly constraining emissions reduction in the South and promoting it in the North.POLICY RELEVANCEThis article contributes to the understanding of the (changing) role of economic development in shaping emissions activity. It demonstrates the need for a contextualized, country-specific approach for evaluating the effectiveness of economic development in promoting emissions reduction and uncovers new evidence in support of the EKC hypothesis.

Date: 2018
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