Seminar Preview: Making Environmental Markets Work

Joatinga e São Conrado Districts. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Rubem Porto Jr/Flickr, Creative Commons.

Brazil is one of the emerging economies that Tabitha Benney will discuss. Photo by Rubem Porto Jr. / Flickr, Creative Commons.

By Shaun Daniel, Sustainability Resource Center

How to balance the needs of developing economies with the imperative of addressing environmental issues like climate change?

Tabitha Benney will explore this question and others in “Making Environmental Markets Work: The Case of Capitalism in the Emerging Economies,” the second installment of the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Fall Seminar Series, on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. in Room 295 of the Sutton Building (FASB).

Benney, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, first became interested in environmental markets as a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she had the opportunity to work with a team lead by Simone Pulver through the Earth Research Institute. This work included study of the sugar and cement industries in Brazil and India with a look at the factors influencing environmental decision-making.

“With the clear link between industry and environmental harm, it seemed valid to ask if varying economic institutions at the state-level might influence environmental outcomes,” Benney says. “After completing my dissertation and a book on the topic, this seemingly simple question has developed into my current research agenda.”

Many people may be familiar with emissions trading programs as an example of a market-based approach to environmental protection. Benney notes that economists have increasingly encouraged the use of such mechanisms since the 1980s.

Tabitha Benney

Assistant Professor Tabitha Benney

To assess the successful development of environmental markets, Benney has developed what she calls a “firm-centered matrix” that considers a country’s registration rate under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (both registered and submitted projects), the impact across different economic sectors, and final credits given for reduced emissions (i.e. Certified Emission Reduction credits) relative to the size of the economy.

“Contrary to the popular belief that the level of development determines a country’s ability to produce positive environmental outcomes, my research concludes that the type of capitalism is a better predictor,” she says. Her seminar presentation will focus on her research into emerging market economies in countries like Brazil, China, and India.

“Most people feel one way or another about capitalism,” Benney notes. “You are either for it, or against it—or so it seems. What most people might find surprising is that the emerging body of literature in this area shows that the U.S. model is not very functional from a sustainability perspective. For example, in my research, I find that although liberal market economies (i.e. U.S., U.K.) were expected to perform better than other types of capitalism, their performance was below expectations in environmental markets. I also find that economic institutions related to coordinated types of capitalism (like those found in China and Brazil) has led to greater participation in environmental markets in those states.”

“The truth is, there is a lot more we need to understand about how national variations in modes of capitalist production may influence important outcomes,” Benney states. If the variety of capitalism matters, then international policy designs, such as climate change efforts, may need to adapt to get the desired outcome, she says.

To find out what aspects of capitalism matter, you’ll just have to attend Benney’s presentation.

The GCSC Fall Seminar Series is open to all and brings top researchers from the University of Utah and beyond to speak about global change and sustainability-related research. Light refreshments will precede Tuesday’s event.

For more information on the GCSC and its seminar series, visit and follow the GCSC on Facebook.

Shaun Daniel is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.

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