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Do productivity improvements move us along the Environmental Kuznets Curve?

Turner, Karen and Hanley, Nick and De Fence, Janine (2009) Do productivity improvements move us along the Environmental Kuznets Curve? Discussion paper. Strathclyde Discussion Papers in Economics, Glasgow, UK.

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Abstract

The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis focuses on the argument that rising prosperity will eventually be accompanied by falling pollution levels as a result of one or more of three factors: (1) structural change in the economy; (2) demand for environmental quality increasing at a more-than-proportional rate; (3) technological progress. Here, we focus on the third of these. In particular, energy efficiency is commonly regarded as a key element of climate policy in terms of achieving reductions in economy-wide CO2 emissions over time. However, a growing literature suggests that improvements in energy efficiency will lead to rebound (or backfire) effects that partially (or wholly) offset energy savings from efficiency improvements. Where efficiency improvements are aimed at the production side of the economy, the net impact of increased efficiency in any input to production will depend on the combination and relative strength of substitution, output/competitiveness, composition and income effects that occur in response to changes in effective and actual factor prices, as well as on the structure of the economy in question, including which sectors are targeted with the efficiency improvement. In this paper we consider whether increasing labour productivity will have a more beneficial, or more predictable, impact on CO2/GDP ratios than improvements in energy efficiency. We do this by using CGE models of the Scottish regional and UK national economies to analyse the impacts of a simple 5% exogenous (and costless) increase in energy or labour augmenting technological progress.