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Presenting at the Oxford Symposium on Population, Migration, and the Environment

In my last blog post, I mentioned that the Cabot Institute would be sponsoring me to present my master’s dissertation at the Oxford Symposium on Population, Migration, and the Environment. The Symposium took place on 7 - 8 December 2017 at St. Hugh’s College.

My dissertation (which I also summarised in the last post), focusses on compensation for individuals or entities who bear the uneven costs of environmental policies. A well-designed environmental policy creates benefits, such as cleaner air and water, mitigated greenhouse gas emissions, or protection of a limited resource or species. These benefits are vital, and I opine that the world needs more and better-designed environmental policies, not fewer. However, my dissertation recognises the uneven distribution of costs in environmental policies—the companies that must purchase abatement technologies, the low-income homes that must pay more for electricity and heat, or the resource-dependent livelihoods that may struggle to make ends meet—and recommends how to compensate those who bear higher costs.

At Oxford, I presented my premise, methodology, findings, and ultimate recommendations for designing compensation for environmental policies. The listeners gave positive feedback. They had all encountered the concept of compensating environmental policies’ victims, but seeing an in-depth study of the concept was novel. After my twenty-five-minute talk, I had five minutes for a formal Q&A.

In my presentation, I mention that one potential uneven cost is the creation of stranded assets. Companies might be left with technologies or whole plants they can no longer use given new, more stringent environmental regulations.

One university professor from the USA commented that companies in Appalachia have left behind old plants of their own accord, leaving an infrastructural scar and economic stagnation. While we consider compensating companies left with stranded assets by policy, we should also hold companies responsible for decommissioning the assets they abandon as a strategic choice.

Another researcher from Poland detailed the difficulty in compensating poor families pushed by policy to buy more efficient heating stoves that they cannot afford. Government could subsidise the purchases if it has sufficient funding, but often these stoves have higher lifetime operating costs as well. Should government permanently subsidise the energy costs of poor families who upgrade their stoves?

These questions challenged me and further emphasised the complexity of designing well-meaning environmental policies and compensation. The symposium was well-planned for these kinds of conversations. Presentations began as experts detailing their work, but finished in a seminar-style unpacking of how the work should evolve and improve. The list of attendees was small, in the 30s range, so the room felt warm and open for discussions. Although small, the symposium was quite international. Presenters came from the UK, the USA, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Italy, India, South Africa, Japan, and elsewhere.

I gained not only from presenting my own work, but also from listening to the presentations of others. The topics varied, all loosely-related to the symposium’s title topics of population, migration, and environment. I am very grateful to the Cabot Institute for making my participation possible. I plan to submit my full manuscript to the symposium, which will publish selected ones a few months into the New Year. The Journal for Science Policy and Governance has already accepted a version of my dissertation for publication, so I am excited to work with its editors to further disseminate my work.
This blog is written by Michael Donatti in October 2017. Michael is a Cabot Institute Masters Research Fellow.
Michael Donatti

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