Publications by Year: 2016

Weitzman, Martin L.On a World Climate Assembly and the Social Cost of Carbon.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016.Abstract

This paper postulates the conceptually useful allegory of a futuristic "World Climate Assembly" (WCA) that votes for a single worldwide price on carbon emissions via the basic democratic principle of one-person one-vote majority rule. If this WCA framework can be accepted in the first place, then voting on a single internationally-binding minimum carbon price (the proceeds from which are domestically retained) tends to counter self-interest by incentivizing countries or agents to internalize the externality. I attempt to sketch out the sense in which each WCA-agent's extra cost from a higher emissions price is counter-balanced by that agent's extra benefit from inducing all other WCA-agents to simultaneously lower their emissions in response to the higher price. The first proposition of this paper derives a relatively simple formula relating each emitter's single-peaked most-preferred world price of carbon emissions to the world "Social Cost of Carbon" (SCC). The second and third propositions relate the WCA-voted world price of carbon to the world SCC. I argue that the WCA-voted price and the SCC are unlikely to differ sharply. Some implications are discussed. The overall methodology of the paper is a mixture of mostly classical with some behavioral economics.

Haefele, Michelle, John Loomis, and Linda J. Bilmes. “Total Economic Valuation of the National Park Service Lands and Programs: Results of a Survey of the American Public.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016. dp71_haefele-loomis-bilmes.pdf
Sullivan, Daniel M.The True Cost of Air Pollution: Evidence from House Prices and Migration.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016.Abstract

In this paper, I present evidence that current economics research significantly underestimates the effects of air pollution, regardless of the outcome of interest. This bias exists even in quasi-experimental estimates and arises from the way researchers define individual-level pollution exposure. A polluter’s effect on nearby residents changes dramatically with the direction of the wind, and most popular methods, including geographic diff-in-diffs and monitor-based interpolations, are unable to account for such sharp changes in exposure over short distances. To solve this problem, I use an atmospheric dispersion model, which explicitly accounts for meteorological conditions, to determine the effect of every polluting firm on every house in greater Los Angeles. I then estimate the effect of NOx emissions on house prices and neighborhood composition using the exogenous variation in emissions caused by the California Electricity Crisis of 2000 and a cap-and-trade program in greater Los Angeles. The estimated price response is much larger than past estimates and implies that the social value of the cap-and-trade program is roughly \$502 million per year, 15 times larger than the associated abatement costs. However, when based on conventional measures of pollution exposure, this estimated valuation is small and statistically indistinguishable from zero. The estimated neighborhood sorting response suggests that, despite the high aggregate value, low-income households may not have benefited much from the improvement in air quality.

Stolper, Samuel. “Who Bears the Burden of Energy Taxes? The Critical Role of Pass-Through.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016.Abstract

Existing estimates of energy tax incidence assume that the pass-through of taxes to final consumer prices is uniform across the affected population. I show that, in fact, variation in local market conditions drives significant heterogeneity in pass-through, and ignoring this can lead to mistaken conclusions about the distributional impacts of energy taxes. I use data from the Spanish retail automotive fuel market to estimate station-specific pass-through, focusing on the effects of competition and wealth. A novel informational mandate provides access to a national, station-daily panel of retail diesel prices and characteristics and allows me to investigate market composition at a fine level. Event study and difference-in-differences regression reveal that, while retail prices rise nearly one-for-one (100%) with taxes on average, station-specific pass-through rates range from at least 70% to 115%. Greater market power – measured by brand concentration and spatial isolation – is strongly associated with higher pass-through, even after conditioning on detailed demand-side characteristics. Furthermore, pass-through rises monotonically in area-average house prices. While a conventional estimate of the Spanish diesel tax burden suggests roughly equivalent incidence across the wealth distribution, overlaying the effect of heterogeneous pass-through reveals the tax to be unambiguously progressive.

Chen, Cuicui, and Richard Zeckhauser. “Collective Action in an Asymmetric World.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016.Abstract

A central authority possessing tax and expenditure responsibilities can readily provide an efficient level of a public good. Absent a central authority, the case with climate change mitigation, voluntary arrangements must replace coercive arrangements; significant under-provision must be expected. Potential contributors have strong incentives to free ride, or to ride cheaply. International public goods are particularly challenging. The players - the nations of the world - are many and they start in quite different circumstances. Voluntary arrangements that might emerge from negotiations fall short for two reasons: First, players frame negotiations from their own standpoint, making stalemate likely. Second, the focal-point solution where contributions are proportional to benefits clashes with the disproportionate incentives little players have to ride cheaply. We identify a solution, the Cheap- Riding Efficient Equilibrium, which defines the relative contributions of players of differing size (or preference intensity) to reflect cheap riding incentives, yet still achieves Pareto optimality. Players start by establishing the Alliance/Nash Equilibrium as a base point. From that point they apply either the principles of the Lindahl Equilibrium or the Nash Bargaining Solution to proceed to the Pareto frontier. The former benefits from its focal-point properties; the latter is a standard analytic tool addressing bargaining. We apply our theory to climate change by first examining the Nordhaus Climate Club proposal. We then test the Alliance Equilibrium model using individual nations' Intended Nationally Determined Contributions pledged at the Paris Climate Change Conference. As hypothesized, larger nations made much larger pledges in proportion to their Gross National Incomes.

duPont, Carolyn M., James N. Levitt, and Linda J. Bilmes. “Green Bonds and Land Conservation: The Evolution of a New Financing Tool.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Environmental Economics Program, 2016.Abstract

"Green Bonds" emerged as a new form of environmental financing in 2007. While most investors still view them as a niche product in the overall fixed income market, green bonds have grown rapidly to nearly \$37 billion in issuance in 2014, with issuers from the World Bank to the State of Massachusetts. This paper examines the current and potential future use of green bonds for financing sustainable land use and conservation projects around the world. The paper draws on interviews with land conservation practitioners, bond issuers, investors, and financial analysts, as well as analysis of two case studies in China and Massachusetts. The paper summarizes the key insights from this community of experts, and lays out a series of steps that will be required before green bonds can develop into a significant and reliable tool in the conservation finance toolkit. The authors find that projects linked to water and stormwater management may be investment “sweet spots” for green bonds and land conservation.