News: Professor Oliver and SOE Graduate Student, Cifci, Publish Research Article

Posted February 2, 2018

The February 2018 issue of Sustainability, a cross-disciplinary, open-access journal, will feature an original, peer-reviewed research article coauthored by SOE graduate student, Eren Cifci, and SOE faculty member, Matthew E. Oliver. The article is titled “Reassessing the Links Between Economic Growth, GHG Emissions, and the UNFCCC: A Difference-in-Differences Approach.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has led the global fight against climate change, as exemplified through major international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement. Last fall President Trump famously rescinded U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement, reigniting the debate about the effectiveness of international climate agreements at the alleged expense of economic growth.

As Cifci and Oliver explain in their article’s abstract,

“International climate agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and, more recently, the Paris Climate Agreement are fragile because, at a national level, political constituencies’ value systems may conflict with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to sustainable levels. Proponents cite climate change as the most pressing challenge of our time, contending that international cooperation will play an essential role in addressing this challenge. Political opponents argue that the disproportionate requirements on developed nations to shoulder the financial burden will inhibit their economic growth.”

Using standard regression techniques to analyze a multi-country dataset of GHG emissions, GDP per capita growth, and other factors, Cifci and Oliver find empirical evidence that both arguments are likely to be correct. The authors’ analysis indicates that after the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005, ‘Annex I’ countries—that is, those classified under the Protocol as developed economies or economies in transition—reduced GHG emissions on average by roughly 1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e), relative to non-Annex I countries. However, the data also reveal that, controlling for other macroeconomic factors, Annex I countries also experienced an average reduction in GDP per capita growth rates of around 1-2 percentage points relative to non-Annex I countries. The authors conclude,

“The trade-off between reduced GHG emissions and greater economic growth is not an illusion; the former incurs real costs that appear significantly to inhibit the latter. It is therefore incumbent upon international bodies such as the [UNFCCC]… to acknowledge this trade-off directly and develop ways to mitigate the impacts on economic growth... Otherwise, the rejection of these agreements by political constituencies who value short-term economic growth over long-term climate benefits will present a constant threat to their viability and success.”

The funds used to pay the open-access publication fee were provided via Dr. Oliver’s participation in the GT Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain 2017 Energy Systems for Sustainable Communities (ESSC) Fellows Program.
The article is currently available online at the following link: