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Is the environmental Kuznets curve an empirical regularity?

  • Deacon, Robert
  • Norman, Catherine S

The empirical literature on the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) purports to describe how a nation’s environmental quality will evolve if it makes the transition from poverty to wealth. The popular generalization is that pollution will first increase and then, if income becomes sufficiently high, decline. Empirical support for this proposition is based primarily on cross-country variations in income and pollution rather than evidence on the behavior of individual countries over time. We examine a recently available data set on SO2, smoke, and particulate air pollution to look for examples of countries following the EKC process. For most pollutants the income-pollution pattern does not differ from what would be expected to occur by chance. According to the EKC hypothesis, the driving force in the worldwide decline in air pollution is growth in income. To check the plausibility of this explanation, we estimate country-specific income elasticities for clean air that are implied by the EKC framework. We find them to be implausibly large relative to other estimates in the literature. We suggest an alternative hypothesis, that public support for environmental protection increased dramatically around 1970, sparking increased efforts to improve environmental quality. Cleanup was faster in rich countries than in poor, however. The record of within-country air pollution trends is broadly consistent with this story.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt2m44f7kr.

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Date of creation: 13 Jul 2004
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt2m44f7kr
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  1. Werner Antweiler & Brian R. Copeland & M. Scott Taylor, 1998. "Is Free Trade Good for the Environment?," NBER Working Papers 6707, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Coondoo, Dipankor & Dinda, Soumyananda, 2002. "Causality between income and emission: a country group-specific econometric analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 351-367, March.
  3. Gene M. Grossman & Alan B. Krueger, 1994. "Economic Growth and the Environment," NBER Working Papers 4634, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Shafik, Nemat & Bandyopadhyay, Sushenjit, 1992. "Economic growth and environmental quality : time series and cross-country evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 904, The World Bank.
  5. Panayotou, Theodore, 1997. "Demystifying the environmental Kuznets curve: turning a black box into a policy tool," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(04), pages 465-484, November.
  6. Stern , David I., 1998. "Progress on the environmental Kuznets curve?," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(02), pages 173-196, May.
  7. Flores, Nicholas E. & Carson, Richard T., 1995. "The Relationship Between the Income Elasticities of Demand and Willingness to Pay," 1995 Conference (39th), February 14-16, 1995, Perth, Australia 148795, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
  8. Holtz-Eakin, Douglas & Selden, Thomas M., 1995. "Stoking the fires? CO2 emissions and economic growth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(1), pages 85-101, May.
  9. Selden Thomas M. & Song Daqing, 1994. "Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 147-162, September.
  10. Stern, David I. & Common, Michael S. & Barbier, Edward B., 1996. "Economic growth and environmental degradation: The environmental Kuznets curve and sustainable development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 24(7), pages 1151-1160, July.
  11. Bengt Kristrom & Pere Riera, 1996. "Is the income elasticity of environmental improvements less than one?," Environmental & Resource Economics, European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 7(1), pages 45-55, January.
  12. CARSON, RICHARd T. & JEON, YONGIL & McCUBBIN, DONALD R., 1997. "The relationship between air pollution emissions and income: US Data," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(04), pages 433-450, November.
  13. Harrison, David Jr. & Rubinfeld, Daniel L., 1978. "Hedonic housing prices and the demand for clean air," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 81-102, March.
  14. Hilton, F. G. Hank & Levinson, Arik, 1998. "Factoring the Environmental Kuznets Curve: Evidence from Automotive Lead Emissions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 126-141, March.
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