Market solutions to environmental problems
Humanity faces an uncertain future as we decide how to respond to the myriad environmental problems we face. Climate change, plastic pollution, resource exploitation and a host of other such challenges threaten our society and the well-being of other life forms sharing this planet.
Effective strategies exist to address these concerns, and some scientists say addressing environmental challenges is about aligning issues with the right incentives.
That’s why researchers at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara have launched a new initiative, the Laboratory of solutions for the environmental market (emLab). Director Christopher Costello describes emLab as a “think-and-do tank” that will develop market-based solutions to solve pressing environmental problems.
“We believe that markets and economic incentives can be powerful tools to align economic and conservation incentives”, Costello wrote about the lab official first blog post. Too often, however, market-based approaches are designed without considering the distributional consequences, membership, and other factors critical to the success of such programs. Thus, a fundamental principle of emLab’s approach is to design and thoughtfully implement incentive approaches to environmental challenges in order to obtain sustainable, efficient and equitable results.
EmLab will follow the approach developed by the Sustainable Fisheries Group at UC Santa Barbara, which has successfully combined academic and pragmatic considerations with ocean challenges over the past 12 years. More recently, the group consulted with the Indonesian government on the effectiveness of a radical new fisheries policy.
Indonesia had been fighting illegal fishing for many years and, in 2013, the 15e the highest level of illegal fishing in the world. At the end of 2014, the country banned all fishing vessels manufactured, owned and operated by foreigners from its national waters, and the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries wanted an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the law. The group used data from satellite beacons – which all large vessels are required to have – as well as satellite images of nighttime lights in the ocean to track fishing activity in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The Sustainable Fisheries Group has determined that foreign fishing has dropped to near zero as a result of the new policy. In 2016, Indonesia ranked 86 on a list of countries with the largest fishing of foreign fleets. The group continued to work with Indonesia, working to analyze the potential benefits of various fisheries reforms.
Foreign fishing in Indonesian waters fell sharply after the country enacted its fisheries reforms.
Photo credit: REN CABRAL
After years of providing innovative and successful conservation solutions, researchers at the Sustainable Fisheries Group have realized that the same types of questions and challenges arise in different fields. For example, many of the lessons learned from managing a tuna stock can be transferred to the management of other global commons, such as climate change. On the one hand, the two problems are cross-border: the catches of one country affect all the others, just as the emissions of one country affect all the other countries. Tuna fishing and climate change are also heterogeneous issues. Different countries have varying degrees of influence over the fishery and feel the effects to varying degrees. Likewise, some countries have a disproportionate effect on climate change, while others may feel the consequences more acutely.
“We quickly realized that we could contribute to a much larger class of global challenges, by developing more equitable and effective incentive solutions,” said Costello. As a result, researchers developed emLab as a new research center focused on solving some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.
In fact, the emLab builds on what Costello and the co-founder of the Sustainable Fisheries Group Steve gaines initially had in mind for their research. In 2003, the two researchers proposed the idea of an environmental solutions center to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Intrigued, he agreed to fund several workshops to explore the possibilities. Two years later, Costello and Gaines presented several examples of projects the center could tackle.
“We had this great global idea, [and] it boiled down to, ‘Okay, I’m going to fund the Sustainable Fisheries Group.’ ”, Recalls Steve Gaines, the dean of the Bren School. “The emLab is fundamentally a much more refined and innovative version of this original idea of thinking about a variety of ways in which you can use environmental markets to find new solutions to environmental problems. “
The Sustainable Fisheries Group will become one of the sub-groups of the emLab alongside a Climate Solutions Group, led by Professor Bren Kyle Meng and Professor of Economics Olivier Deschenes; a Productive Landscapes, led by Professor Bren Andrew Plantinga; and an anti-poverty group, led by Professor Bren Kelsey Jack. Under the leadership of Program Director Michaela Clemence, emLab will centralize these related efforts to facilitate strong internal and external collaborations.
The laboratory will organize its first event from November 9 to 10: the 17the Occasional workshop in environmental and resource economics. Sponsored by UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Economics and the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, the workshop offers environmental economists from various institutions the opportunity to share their work and ideas.
“The real test of our success is not the number of science and nature articles we write,” said Costello, “but rather, have we addressed the most pressing challenges, and developed and helped to implement more equitable and effective solutions to these challenges? “