From water and food security to natural disasters and ecosystems in peril, climate change is an existential threat to the earth and all who inhabit it. But plans and work to mitigate and combat its effects are frequently met with political and industry pushback stating that these efforts deter economic development and prosperity. But can environmentally-conscience polices also be economically viable—even beneficial?
On April 22—also known since 1970 as Earth Day—experts from the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, RE-volv, and The Nature Conservancy, will take part in a virtual panel hosted by SIS: Who Pays for Climate Change? An Earth Day Discussion.
The Intersection of Economics and the Environment
SIS professor Claire Brunel, who researches issues at the intersection of environmental economics and international politics, will moderate the event. The conversation will feature a panel of experts who will discuss how to combine economic development and innovation with positive climate action in ways that benefit us all.
“It’s essential to think about the relationship between the environment and the economy because that’s the main obstacle to passing environmental regulation, to actually protecting our planet,” says Brunel.
The experts on the panel include Andreas Karelas, an SIS alumnus and the founder and executive director of RE-volv, a nonprofit focusing on clean energy; Irina Markina, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center; and Priya Shyamsundar, the lead economist at The Nature Conservancy.
The Importance of Getting Decision Makers on Board
According to Brunel, it’s essential that both public and private sectors incorporate environmental goals and the threat of climate change into their decision making: “We cannot keep growing the way we have been. It’s just not sustainable. At some point in the future—that is probably a lot closer than we think—this growth is just not going to work anymore.”
Shyamsundar emphasizes that environmental changes have effects that not only influence people’s health but also their jobs and livelihoods. Because climate change is already leading to extreme weather patterns, risks to agriculture and food security are increasing as well.
“As the weather becomes more variable, farmers, who have a very small margin in terms of their returns from agriculture, have to manage these risks. With climate change, the variability in temperatures and rainfall is not the same as it used to be…so farmers have to make decisions under a great deal more uncertainty, which affects the types of investments they make, the inputs they use and agricultural yields,” says Shyamsundar.
At the same time, when addressing the environment, decision makers must also take the economy into account. According to Brunel, the goal should be to protect the planet as much as possible while continuing to help people maintain their standard of living. Any decision comes with trade-offs, so it’s important to have research that reveals what the true effects of environmental policies are on the economy.
Promoting and Accomplishing Positive Climate Action
Shyamsundar hopes that event attendees will come away with the understanding that a variety of incentives matter when it comes to accomplishing positive climate action: “We tend to focus on monetary incentives to bring about changes, but those aren’t the only kind. Social incentives—when people do what they see others doing—and moral incentives—when people are incentivized by their moral commitments—all of these matter. We need to figure out how to strengthen these incentives to enable people to more readily participate in positive change.”
With experts from different environmental backgrounds, Brunel believes the event will showcase a comprehensive view of how the environment and economies intersect. She also hopes that students will be inspired by the panelists, especially Karelas, who graduated with a master’s degree from the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development program at SIS.
“I think a lot of our audience will be interested to see what you can do with an SIS degree and how you can incorporate what you’ve learned at SIS into having a successful career in the green economy,” says Brunel.