Tag: sustainability

The Impact of Technological Innovations and Economic Growth on Carbon Dioxide Emissions

20240408 Carbon Dioxide Emissions Image 01

This policy brief offers an examination of the interplay between economic growth, research, and development (R&D), and CO2 emissions in different countries. Analysing data for 83 countries over three decades, our research reveals varying impacts of economic and R&D activities on CO2 emissions depending on country income level. While increased economic growth often leads to higher emissions due to greater industrial activity, our model indicates that increased GDP levels, when interacted with enhanced investments in R&D, is associated with reduced CO2 emissions. Our approach also recognizes the diverse economic conditions of countries, allowing for a more tailored understanding of how to tackle environmental challenges effectively.

Technological Innovation and CO2 Emissions

Human activity has over the past few decades significantly contributed to environmental problems, in particular CO2 emissions. The consequences from increased CO2 emissions, such as global warming and climate change, have motivated extensive research focused on understanding their impact and finding potential solutions to associated issues.

Economic growth, and research and development (R&D) can serve as differentiating factors between countries when it comes to their pollution levels, specifically measured by CO2 emissions per capita. Higher levels of economic growth are associated with increased industrial activity and energy consumption, which may lead to increased CO2 emissions. At the same time, countries that invest more in R&D often focus on developing cleaner technologies and implementing sustainable practices, which may result in reduced CO2 emissions.

In this policy brief, we analyse CO2 emissions’ dependencies on technological innovation and economic growth. For our analysis we group the considered 83 countries into three wealth levels: High, Upper Middle, and Lower Middle income levels. This grouping facilitates a better understanding of the complex interplay between wealth, innovation and growth and their projection into emissions. Considering each wealth level group separately also allows us to account for varying economic and developmental contexts.


Based on data availability, we analyse 83 countries, spanning from 1996 to 2019, inclusive. We follow current research trends and use R&D intensity as a proxy for technological innovation (see Chen & Lee, 2020; Petrović & Lobanov, 2020; Avenyo & Tregenna, 2022).

Data on energy use originate from Our World in Data. R&D data from after 2014 are based on figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. All other indicators come from World Development Indicators (WDI).

Table 1 presents an overview of the variables considered in our empirical model. Our response variable is CO2 emissions per capita. We include several covariates (i.e. urban population, renewable energy, trade), found to be significant in previous studies where CO2 emissions was considered the dependent variable (Avenyo & Tregenna, 2022; Wang, Zeng & Liu, 2019; Petrović & Lobanov, 2020; Chen & Lee, 2020).

Table 1. Variable description.

Additionally, we include quadratic terms for GDP and R&D to account for nonlinearity and non-monotonicity. Also, we incorporate the interaction term between GDP and R&D (see Table 3). This allows us to evaluate whether the impact of technological innovations on CO2 emissions is dependent on the GDP level, or vice versa.

Wealth Level Classification

Existing literature highlights significant variation between countries in terms of economic growth and income levels, particularly in relation to R&D expenditure and CO2 emission levels (see Cheng et al., 2021; Chen & Lee, 2020; Petrović & Lobanov, 2020; Avenyo & Tregenna, 2022). Given this we deployed the Mclust method (Scrucca et al., 2016; Fraley & Raftery, 2002), and classified our considered countries into three distinct groups based on their median Gross National Income (GNI) over a specified range of years for each country. Following this methodology, we obtained three groups of countries: High, Upper Middle and Lower Middle. The list of countries categorized by their respective wealth level is presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Countries within each wealth group.

Low-income countries, (as categorized by the World Bank in 2022) were not included in the analysis as the study focuses on the impact of technological innovations on CO2 emissions, innovations which are less frequent in such economies. Limited infrastructure, financial resources, and access to technology often result in lower levels of R&D activities in low-income countries, which reduces the number of measurable innovations.

The Hybrid Model

Our leading hypothesis is that country income levels (measured by GDP) mediates the relationship between innovation (measured by R&D expenditures) and CO2 emissions. To test this, one could estimate this relationship for each group of countries separately. This policy brief instead estimates the relationship for the whole sample of countries accounting for group differences via interaction effects. Specifically, our estimation allows for interaction terms between some or all covariates and the wealth level. This approach, which we refer to as the hybrid model, thus combines elements of both pooled and separate models. It is a great alternative to separate models as it allows for estimation of both group-specific and sample-wide effects, and as it contrasts differential impacts across wealth level groups.

We test two versions of the hybrid model, one full and one reduced. The full model incorporates interactions with all covariates while the reduced model includes some indices without interactions, resulting in a relationship shared across all wealth levels. The reduced model assumes that the variables Renewable energy consumption, Energy use and Trade exhibit the same relationship with CO2 emissions across all wealth levels.

Both the reduced and full hybrid models have similar coefficients for the variables and interactions that they share. While the coefficients share signs in both the full and reduced hybrid models, they are smaller, in absolute values, in the reduced hybrid model. In Table 3 we present the estimates from the reduced hybrid model.

Table 3. Results from the reduced hybrid model with CO2 emissions as dependent variable, by wealth group level.

Note: The upper part of the table (denoted “interaction variables”) depicts the coefficients for the interaction term between the variable in the respective row and the income group in the respective column. * denotes a 0.05 significance level. ** denotes a 0.01 significance level. ***denotes a 0.001 significance level.

Several things are to be noted from Table 3. First, for High and Upper Middle wealth level countries there is a significant positive association between innovation (as proxied by R&D) and CO2 emissions. However, the significance levels of the interaction term for R&D and GDP reveal that the relationship between R&D and CO2 is not constant across wealth levels even within each group. Specifically, it appears that relatively high values of GDP and R&D are associated with a decrease in CO2 emissions in High and Upper Middle wealth level countries. This suggests that in wealthier countries, advancements in technology and efficient practices derived from R&D are likely contributing to reduced emission levels. Interestingly, GDP has no direct effect on emissions for countries in these two wealth groups. Rather, GDP only affects emissions through the interaction term with R&D.

In turn, for the Lower Middle wealth level countries, R&D has no impact on CO2 emissions, whether directly or via interaction with GDP. Instead, higher GDP leads to a significant increase in emissions. This suggests that for these countries economic growth entail CO2 emissions while R&D activities are too small to have a mediating effect.

Second, medium and high-technology industry value added manufacturing is only significant for countries within the Upper Middle wealth level. This is in line with previous literature (see Avenyo & Tregenna, 2022, Wang, Zeng & Liu, 2019). A higher proportion of medium and high-technology industry value added is often negatively associated with CO2 emissions due to the adoption of cleaner and more environmentally sustainable technologies and practices within these industries. Additionally, these industries are often subject to stringent environmental regulations. As a result, these industries can contribute to reduced emission levels, becoming key drivers of sustainable economic growth and environmental protection (Avenyo & Tregenna, 2022). Interestingly, in our estimation, this result is evident only for Upper Middle wealth level countries.

Third, urban population is only significantly increasing emissions for High wealth level countries. Such positive relationship can be attributed to several factors. There is often a higher concentration of industrial and manufacturing activities in urban areas, leading to increased emissions of pollutants as urbanization increases (Wang, Zeng & Liu, 2019). Additionally, urban areas tend to have higher energy consumption and transportation demands, further contributing to higher emission levels.

When it comes to the factors jointly estimated across wealth groups, the positive relationship between renewable energy consumption and CO2 emissions is well-documented within the literature (Chen & Lee, 2020) which emphasizes the need for sustainable energy practices and efficient resource management to mitigate adverse environmental impacts. In line with this, the significant negative relationship between renewable energy consumption and CO2 emissions suggests that an increase in renewable energy usage is associated with a reduction in CO2 emissions. This is in line with previous findings demonstrating that technological progress helps reduce CO2 emissions by bringing energy efficiency (Akram et al., 2020; Sharif et al., 2019).


This policy brief analyses the effects of GDP and technological innovations on CO2 emissions. The theoretical channels linking economic development (and technological innovations) and CO2 emissions are multifaceted, warranting the need for an econometric assessment. We study 83 countries between 1996 and 2020 in a setting that allows us to disentangle the effects across countries with different income levels.

Our findings underscore the importance of considering the various income levels of the considered countries and their interplay with R&D expenditures in environmental policy discussions. Countries with Lower Middle income levels exhibit insignificant effects from R&D expenditures on CO2 emissions, while for Upper Middle and High wealth level nations, increased R&D expenditures incurs higher emissions.

The moderating role of GDP adds complexity to this relationship. At sufficiently high wealth levels, GDP weakens the effect of R&D on emissions. This alleviating effect becomes stronger as GDP increases until reaching a turning point, at which the impact reverses and R&D expenditures instead decrease emissions.

Our results on the significant nonlinear relationship between R&D, GDP and CO2 emission levels highlights the complexity of addressing environmental challenges within the context of macroeconomics. It suggests that policies promoting both R&D and economic growth simultaneously can foster more sustainable development paths, where economic expansion is accompanied by a more efficient and cleaner use of resources, leading to lower CO2 emissions. This decoupling of economic growth from emissions is likely to be further enhanced by governments incentivising research and development focused on improved energy efficiency and emission reduction.


  • Akram, R., Chen, F., Khalid, F., Ye, Z., & Majeed, M. T. (2020). Heterogeneous effects of energy efficiency and renewable energy on carbon emissions: Evidence from developing countries. Journal of cleaner production, 247, 119122.
  • Avenyo, E. K., & Tregenna, F. (2022). Greening manufacturing: Technology intensity and carbon dioxide emissions in developing countries. Applied energy, 324, 119726.
  • Chen, Y., & Lee, C. C. (2020). Does technological innovation reduce CO2 emissions? Cross-country evidence. Journal of Cleaner Production, 263, 121550.
  • Cheng, C., Ren, X., Dong, K., Dong, X., & Wang, Z. (2021). How does technological innovation mitigate CO2 emissions in OECD countries? Heterogeneous analysis using panel quantile regression. Journal of Environmental Management, 280, 111818.
  • Fraley C. and Raftery A. E. (2002) Model-based clustering, discriminant analysis and density estimation. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 97/458, pp. 611-631.
  • Petrović, P., & Lobanov, M. M. (2020). The impact of R&D expenditures on CO2 emissions: evidence from sixteen OECD countries. Journal of Cleaner Production, 248, 119187.
  • Scrucca, L., Fop, M., Murphy, T. B., & Raftery, A. E. (2016). mclust 5: clustering, classification and density estimation using Gaussian finite mixture models. The R journal, 8(1), 289.
  • Sharif, A., Raza, S. A., Ozturk, I., & Afshan, S. (2019). The dynamic relationship of renewable and nonrenewable energy consumption with carbon emission: a global study with the application of heterogeneous panel estimations. Renewable energy, 133, 685-691.
  • Wang, S., Zeng, J., Liu, X., (2019). Examining the multiple impacts of technological progress on CO2 emissions in China: a panel quantile regression approach. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 103, 140–150.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Environmental Enforcement in the EU: Insights from Administrative Cases in the US

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In March 2023, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted unanimously in favor of a proposed update to the EU Directive on environmental crimes (Directive 2008/99/EC). The update seeks to step up enforcement of environmental legislation across Members States through criminal law aimed at severely punishing very serious environmental offenses. We argue that, while laudable in its goal of strengthening enforcement of environmental regulation at the EU level, the current effort might be insufficient since moderately serious offenses might remain largely unpunished. To address this shortcoming, we propose harmonizing administrative law as well. We consider additional benefits from relying on administrative law in terms of flexibility of punishment design, based on the US experience of using environmentally beneficial projects performed in affected areas as a form of punishment in administrative environmental settlements. We discuss evidence on the merits and potential limitations of the US approach based on Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) and conclude that such an approach is worth considering in the EU context.

While the EU has set aggressive pollution reduction targets across its Member States (European Commission, 2021a), for example pledging to reduce deaths due to particulate matters to 55 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (European Commission, 2023a), much work remains to be done. As documented in Lehne (2021), in 2020 all countries in Europe reported PM2.5 concentrations above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 5mg/m3. Six countries, including three EU Member States (Italy, Croatia, and Poland) reported levels above the EU’s annual limit value of 25mg/m3. Further, Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal, Croatia, and Romania did not meet national targets for PM2.5 reduction (European Environment Agency, 2023). Main contributors to PM2.5 pollution are transportation and industrial activity, including energy production. High concentrations of these particles are known to increase physical and mental health risks (Persico, 2022; Persico et al., 2016), and risk of premature deaths (Fuller et al., 2022).

Environmental concerns across EU Member States are also not limited to air pollution. Across the EU, 28 percent of groundwater sources are affected by pollution from agriculture, 14 percent from industrial contamination, and 7.5 percent from mining waste (Kampa et al., 2021). The persistent pollution problems in the EU and their unequal distribution across regions despite growing EU-level environmental legislation underscores the importance of law enforcement. While all EU Member States are theoretically subject to the same overarching environmental standards and regulations, the enforcement of environmental laws differs widely across countries. To address this issue, the EU Commission (henceforth EC) has recently taken steps to further harmonize environmental enforcement across EU Member States.

In this brief we consider the EC’s proposal and argue that, while commendable in the goal of strengthening enforcement of environmental regulation at the EU level, it is also quite limited in terms of enforcement tools that it considers. Specifically, we discuss potential advantages of leveraging administrative law tools to enforce environmental regulation, whereas the EC approach is currently focused on criminal law. We consider the higher probability of prosecution and the enhanced flexibility in the type of penalties allowed by administrative enforcement actions. Finally, we discuss results from Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022), which studies the use of administrative penalties for environmental violations in the US and draws some lessons for environmental enforcement in other jurisdictions.

Strengthening Environmental Enforcement at the EU Level

While environmental regulation is a shared competence of the EU, enforcement has historically been left to national environmental authorities (European Parliament, 2016). In the face of a lack of institutional capacity at the national level, a result of this arrangement are generally low levels of environmental enforcement, widely heterogeneous across Member States (Mazur, 2011). EU institutions have tried unsuccessfully over time to address this challenge and harmonize enforcement across EU Member States. An early attempt was made in 2001, when the EU put in place minimum standards for environmental inspections that Member States carry out, though these were only non-binding guidelines, and Member States could not be sanctioned for flouting them (European Parliament, 2001). Mandatory standards were then introduced in 2008, with the EU Directive on environmental crimes (Directive 2008/99/EC), which forced national governments to apply criminal sanctions to those causing “substantial damage” to the environment. However, it has typically been difficult for the EC to sanction non-abiding Member States. Moreover, the obligation is limited to areas where the EU has competence and does not include minimum penalties.

In another attempt to step up their enforcement efforts, in 2016 the EC began publishing the annual Environmental Implementation Review, where each country is evaluated on its environmental affairs and enforcement (European Commission, 2023b). Although this does not improve the EC’s ability to efficiently sanction Member States, it does increase scrutiny and visibility. In 2021, the EC tabled a proposal to update the 2008 Directive on environmental crimes (European Commission, 2021b). The proposal acknowledged the insufficient number of environmental criminal cases successfully investigated and prosecuted as well as the large discrepancies in the transposition of the 2008 Directive across Member States. Against this background, the EC proposed to enlarge the scope of the 2008 Directive, establish minimum penalties, foster cross-border investigation and prosecution, and promote data collection and dissemination on criminal enforcement actions. In March 2023, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted in support of the EC proposal, extending the list of offenses that would be criminally charged and increasing the size of the minimum penalties.

Environmental Enforcement, Administrative Law and “In-kind” Punishment

The efforts of EU institutions to improve and harmonize enforcement are exclusively focused on criminal law instruments. The EC’s 2021 proposal specifically links poor enforcement in Member States to their reliance on administrative law, which limits fines and thus allegedly reduces the deterrence value of enforcement actions. Indeed, sufficiently high fines are considered crucial to deter future violations (see, e.g., Aguzzoni et al., 2013). However, we argue that reliance on administrative law also has some advantages. In particular, we consider two potential benefits of administrative law based on existing studies, namely higher probability of case initiation and more flexibility in terms of penalty design.

Probability of Case Initiation

One of the shortcomings of the current enforcement framework highlighted by the EC is the very low number of environmental criminal cases that are ultimately prosecuted. Research on enforcement tends to link the low frequency of observed criminal cases to the high cost of criminal proceedings, especially relative to more informal administrative procedures (Faure and Svatikova, 2012). The cost dimension is especially relevant for cases that are moderately serious, but that nevertheless in aggregate contribute significantly to environmental degradation. The probability of catching violations is also relevant, together with the size of the penalty. A very large penalty for a criminal case that is highly unlikely to be prosecuted might be less deterring than a moderate penalty associated with very high probability of prosecution.

“In-kind” Penalties

Federal environmental regulations in the US are enforced through a combination of administrative and criminal law. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiates administrative cases or refers them to the Department of Justice when the gravity of the violation is large. Administrative cases result in settlements where the defendant can be ordered to pay a fine, which can vary from a few thousand to a few million dollars and which is determined according to various factors, such as the magnitude of environmental harm, the firm’s economic gain from violation, its violation history, and its ability to pay. Additionally, when a fine is established, defendants are given the opportunity to volunteer to pay for an environmentally beneficial project in the affected area. The EPA encourages these projects especially in areas subject to environmental justice concerns, namely those characterized by a large share of minority and low-income households.

Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) study the implications of using these projects in environmental enforcement cases in the US. The study reveals a large preference among the public for this “in-kind” form of penalty versus traditional fines, based on a survey of US residents. Moreover, a randomized survey experiment reveals that these environmental projects elevate the profile of the firm among the public as compared to a firm that only pays a fine, even when the penalties stem from the same violation. Similarly, the stock-market response to the announcement of these projects is positive, whereas announcing a settlement with a large penalty causes a drop in the stock-market price of the defendant. In terms of implications for environmental justice, the data analysis shows that the whitest and richest communities are the most likely to receive these projects, but the second largest share goes to communities where there are highest concentrations of minorities and low-income households.

Overall, the study finds that punishing firms through environmental projects can be beneficial for political economy reasons, given the large preference for this enforcement tool among the public and likely among firms, since firms seem to benefit from undertaking the projects. Moreover, while the targeting of environmental justice communities in the US is not perfect, tweaking the US arrangement could guarantee that the projects predominantly benefit those communities most harmed by environmental violations.

For EU adoption of environmental projects enforcement, a caveat is that the perception of these projects might be different among the public in the EU. Nonetheless, large-scale surveys modelled on those presented in Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) can help in understanding public views in different regions. Moreover, the paper emphasizes that on the one hand, by benefiting defendants, the environmental projects might ultimately be a more lenient punishment than fines, with implications for deterrence and future environmental quality. On the other hand, environmental quality might also improve as a direct effect of the projects being implemented and due to improved monitoring in affected communities (Dimitri et al., 2006). Overall, the study finds that future environmental quality might be more likely to improve following fines rather than environmental projects. However, it cautions the reader on data limitations that causes the result to not be conclusive enough and calls for further research.


The persistence of environmental problems in the EU, as well as the striking differences in pollution levels across EU Member States, underscores the need for more and better environmental regulation. However, even in the presence of comprehensive and strict environmental rules, the protection of the environment is still inadequate if a proper enforcement mechanism is not in place. As observed in OECD (2009), proper enforcement ensures deterrence. Successful deterrence provides the best protection for the environment, while reducing the resources necessary to administer laws by addressing non-compliance before it occurs. EU institutions have recently taken important steps to improve and further harmonize enforcement of environmental regulation across Member States, with proposed updates to the existing Directive on the matter scheduled for Member-State discussion in upcoming months.

Specifically, the EU is seeking to step up the use of criminal law to prosecute environmental offenses across Member States, with mandatory penalties and increased cross-border coordination. We argue that the focus on criminal law has some drawbacks, which could be addressed by also harmonizing administrative enforcement across EU Member States. Researchers have previously argued that reliance on administrative law might increase the likelihood that offenses are investigated and prosecuted. We also present evidence from the use of administrative law in the US, where defendants in environmental cases can settle to pay part of their penalty “in-kind”, i.e. by performing environmental projects in areas affected by the alleged violations. The evidence suggests that the use of these projects is worth considering in other jurisdictions, including the EU, because they might be preferred by the public and could help addressing environmental justice concerns. An important caveat is that their implications for environmental protection are not clear, and more research should address this important aspect. On the subject, the existing evidence on environmental enforcement in the US, such as that presented in Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022), is established thanks to the availability of rich data sources kept by the US’ EPA. The EC’s recent proposal to systematically collect and disseminate data on environmental crimes is thus particularly welcome and should not be overlooked in the upcoming negotiations with Member States on the final content of the proposed Directive.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Climate Risk Perception and Green Behavior in Belarus

Toxic smoke stacks emitting carbon pollution and causing climate change and representing climate risk perception

Understanding how people perceive climate risks and what factors influence this perception is important for a shift towards more sustainable consumer behavior and thus a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This policy brief presents the results from a survey  on the attitudes to climate change and environmentally responsive behavior among the urban Belarusian population aged 18-75. The findings show that 72.7 percent of the respondents consider climate change as a threat to the country in the coming 20 years. This climate risk perception, however, does not fully result in more sustainable consumer behavior in Belarus. The survey also reveals that the mass media, with the exception of the Internet, have no influence on the formation of people’s attitudes toward climate change.

Global warming constitutes one of the major threats to humanity and an obstacle to achieving sustainable development. 72 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to households (IPCC, 2022), underlining the importance of individual behavioral changes to tackle global warming.

Acknowledging climate change as a risk is a precondition to shift people’s behavior towards sustainable practices (Le Coq and Paltseva, 2021). Thus, the objective of the study underlying this brief is to analyze whether the population in Belarus considers climate change as a threat, and which factors and media channels might have an effect on such perceptions. Additionally, the brief will explore whether climate change risk perceptions actually translate into more environmentally sustainable consumer behavior.

Climate Change as a Threat

The online-survey was conducted in April, 2022 among the urban population in Belarus aged 18-75. The purpose of the survey was to collect individual data on environmentally responsible behaviors and climate change perceptions. The sample includes 1029 individuals and is representative by age, gender and region. According to the survey, 72.7 percent of the respondents consider climate change as a threat to the country in the coming 20 years.

To explore which demographic and socio-economic variables (e.g., education, age, gender, income, and mass media) influence the perception of climate change as a risk among the Belarusian population, we employ a logistic regression model. The results reveal that gender, personal experience of extreme weather events and exposure to climate change information on the Internet play an important role in forming climate change risk perceptions among Belarusians, as depicted in Table 1.

Table 1. Determinants of Climate Change Risk Perception

Note: Media channels are measured on a 5-point Likert scale where 0 denotes “Don’t use this media”; 1 “never” up until 4, “very often”, answering the question “How often do you come across the information about climate change, environmental problems or sustainable lifestyle on the following media?”. Standard errors are in parentheses, *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05 and * p<0.1

Women are 6.1 percent more likely to consider climate change as a threat than men. This could be due to a higher level of empathy exhibited by women, making them more worried about consequences of extreme weather events and environmental protection and more sensitive to the risk of environmental degradation (Milfont and Sibley, 2016). Respondents with personal experience from, or those who have close persons having suffered significant damage from severe weather events such as floods or violent storms in the past two years, are 25.2 percent more likely to perceive climate change as a risk. Thus, personal experience of severe weather events is one of the main factors that impact climate change risk perception. The literature also confirms that climate beliefs are linked to these experiences (see for instance Spence et al., 2011; Dai et al., 2015; Demski et al., 2017 and Bergquist et al., 2019).  Interestingly, out of all types of mass media included in the analysis (TV, newspapers, radio and the Internet), only exposure to environmental information on the Internet makes individuals 5.5 percent more likely to take climate change seriously. This indicates that nowadays people in Belarus get independent analytical and expert information on climate problems mainly from the Internet.

Environmentally Responsible Behavior

The same survey data was used to analyze environmentally responsible behavior among the Belarusian population. Although more than 72 percent of the respondents consider environmental change as a threat, the climate risk perception does not fully project into more sustainable behaviors – even within this subgroup. As illustrated in Figure 1, this belief is very well translated into such environmentally responsible actions as water saving, energy saving, mobility and repairing. The share of people engaged in these activities on a regular basis account for 62-73 percent.  These behaviors are however financially beneficial to the practitioner, and may largely be because of economic reasons rather than an effort to minimize the impact on the environment. At the same time, the survey shows that people in Belarus less often engage in such environmentally friendly actions such as waste separation, reduced use of plastic bags or use of own bag when shopping (see Figure 1). These actions are not linked to any financial benefits and are often associated with higher time costs (e.g., waste separation) or loss of convenience (e.g., decreased plastics use). This suggests that environmentally responsible behavior among the Belarusian population is largely determined by external factors, rather than a product of intrinsic care of the environment.

Figure 1. Frequency of Environmentally Responsible Behaviors Among the Respondents who Consider Climate Change as a Risk

Note: Distribution of the answers to the question “Could you please evaluate on a scale from 1 (never) to 4 (always) how often you engage in these behaviors for environmental reasons?” Mobility represents walking, biking or using public transportation instead of a car. Repairing means choosing to reuse or repair something (e.g. clothes) rather than to throw it away.


Survey results show that the urban population in Belarus recognizes global warming as a serious problem, with 72.7 percent of the respondents seeing climate change as a threat to the country in the next 20 years. However, these beliefs have not yet fully projected into green consumption behavior.

With this in mind, efforts to shift Belarusians towards environmentally responsive behavior should be strengthened. Endeavors need to be made to raise public awareness of environmental issues and to promote a sustainable lifestyle among the Belarusian population. In particular, and in addition to the Internet, the role of mass media (such as television, radio and print media) to deliver the message on the need for more sustainable consumption and greater involvement in environmentally friendly actions, ought to be increased.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Recipient Type and the Effectiveness of Informational Campaigns: The Case of Meat

A picture of meat on the table table, indoor, sitting representing Informational campaigns that affect meat consumption

While global population growth has been accelerating during the last decades, the number of humans currently living on the planet is dwarfed by the amount of farm animals alive at any time, and even more by the quantity we slaughter for meat every year. According to the latest FAO statistics, this latter number is estimated at around 75 billion. Even ignoring animal welfare, this is severely affecting the health of the planet and our own. What should be done about this?

Externalities of Meat Consumption

Mankind has been butchering and eating animals for at least 3,4 million years (McPherron et al., 2010). Evolutionary biology theories claim that complementing our diet with meat contributed to the spectacular growth of our brain (Fonseca-Azevedo et al., 2012). Anthropological theories suggest that the necessity of hunting drove the development of tool building, language and social structures. The domestication of animals (and plants) around 10,000 years ago led to a jump in the history of civilization. In other words, eating meat is a large part of what made us human. However, during the last century, we took this to unsustainable levels. All in all, the agricultural sector accounts for 25 to 30% of global CO2 emissions, second only to the energy and transport sector, and 60% of non-CO2 emissions, in particular methane, which is much more efficient than CO2 at warming up the planet. A third to half of these emissions, depending on whether or not we include the share related to land use, comes from livestock production. Large scale factory farms, which cater to the ever-increasing global demand for cheap meat, are also responsible for other externalities, including distorted resource use (in particular of water and fertile land); local pollution of air and waterways, with consequences for neighbouring ecosystems and human health; abuse of antibiotics, which threatens their effectiveness with dramatic implications for the whole spectrum of modern medicine. The cheap and overabundant animal products with worsened nutritional properties, which result from these production methods are also behind the epidemic of “welfare diseases” such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and some types of cancer (Mozaffarian, 2016).

So, what should we do about this? Economics is very clear on this point. In the presence of externalities, market prices do not reflect social costs; therefore, the market mechanism fails, and decisions taken on the basis of these prices are suboptimal. If applied to meat consumption, this principle implies that, first of all, consumers and producers must pay for the emissions (and other externalities) they cause. Today’s carbon pricing systems, whether in the form of a tax like in Sweden or tradable emission permits like in EU, exempt the agricultural sector for various reasons. Moreover, as already mentioned there is more to meat than carbon emissions. Another FREE brief (Perrotta, 2011) makes the case for a meat (consumption) tax. Multiple teams of researchers (Wirsenius, Hedenus, and Mohlin, 2011; Edjabou and Smed, 2013; Gren, 2015; Andersson, 2019) have come as far as to compute the optimal level of such a tax, in different contexts and under different assumptions. There are also drawbacks to this approach, though. Climate-change curbing policy is in general an area where policy makers at all levels find it hard to converge to policies of strong incentives, such as taxes and regulation. Interventions targeting food production or dietary choices, in particular, are likely to face strong opposition from producers and consumers alike. It is therefore worth considering the alternative – or at least complementary – strategy of information and awareness campaigns.

The Power of Information

Given that a climate policy agenda of strong incentives is so fraught with obstacles, the potential for information to spark voluntary action would be very valuable. There is a catch here, however. Information about the benefits of an action often fails to encourage that action. Consider the case in point: for decades now, we have observed a persistence and increase of meat eating despite mounting evidence and widespread information on the ills of meat production and consumption. Indeed, this well-known weakness of informational interventions has contributed to the rising importance and application of alternative approaches. One example is the popularity of the so-called nudges (Thaler and Sunstein, 2009), modifications in the choice architecture that can subtly push agents towards an action without actually limiting the available alternatives. There is ample research on where and why the chain from information to action might get interrupted, and established evidence that the effectiveness of information depends on a variety of factors such as recipients’ prior beliefs, the sender’s credibility, and the non-informative content of the message, such as the emotional evocativeness of imagery (see a survey in DellaVigna and Gentzkow, 2010). Taking a step back to the stage before, namely the question whether information does reach the intended beneficiaries in the first place, at least three aspects of this have been investigated: limited attention, active avoidance, and selective retaining of information on the part of the recipients. In a new working paper (Berlin and Mandl, 2020), we investigate the role of individual type for selective information retention. We ask whether certain types of agents, in our case vegetarians, retain more of the information they are exposed to, even when exposed to a similar context and the same incentives to retain information as everyone else (so that hopefully the competing channels of limited attention and active avoidance can be neutralized). This has relevance for the possibility of tailoring the policy message, similar to the marketing theories of market segmentation. In contrast to well-developed marketing practices in the private sector, this potential has so far not been exploited in policy design. To the best of our knowledge, this mechanism has not been investigated in a real-life incentivized setting outside the lab before.

Natural Experiment in Class

We exploit a natural experiment in the context of higher education. A class of college students was assigned an essay about their plan for a Christmas dinner menu, after being exposed to a lecture and reading materials on the externalities of meat production, so that they could decide to make use of this information. The essays were to be written in randomly assigned groups of three, making the type combination, i.e. the presence of one or more vegetarian group members, a random group characteristic. We hypothesize that there is a difference in how carnivores and vegetarians deal with the provided information about the food industry. In particular, we test whether groups that include a vegetarian student recall a larger share of the information than groups made up only of carnivores. The essay was mandatory, and moreover it awarded study credits toward the final grade of the course (10/100 points). This constitutes a sizeable incentive and possibly provides a stronger motivation for information retention as compared to the average monetary rewards which lab experiments rely on. To measure the share of information retained, we preregistered a list of 30 words in both English and Swedish related to the learning outcomes of the lecture. We then used a script to measure how many of the 30 words appear in each essay. We call this number the essay’s score, separate and independent from the teacher’s assigned grade, which is of relevance for the student. The teacher-assigned grade, reflecting general comprehension of the topic rather than just the presence of keywords, is expected to be correlated with the score, but not perfectly. We also expect the grade to capture the ability of the students to a higher degree compared to the score, as the automatized word count fails to consider the context in which the words are mentioned.


Figure 1. Group score by treatment status

Source: Berlin and Mandl (2020).

On average, groups including a vegetarian student scored higher (4.8) than groups with all meat-eaters (4.3), but not significantly so. The estimated Cohen’s d (0.347), a standard measure of effect size used to indicate the standardized difference between two means, is much smaller than the minimum detectable effect in our sample, which we estimated at 0.8. In other words, we do not have the statistical power to either accept or reject the null hypothesis. The reason is that the treated group displays larger variation in score outcomes, possibly due to the smaller than anticipated sample size: only 11 students out of almost 300 identified themselves as vegetarians or vegan (non meat-eaters), which is a much smaller proportion than what the latest survey of young adults in Sweden estimates (17%, Djurens Rätt, 2018).

Looking beyond the mean at the details of our data reveals an interesting pattern. As the Figure shows, the distribution of achieved scores among the vegetarian groups is bimodal: a lower-level concentration of scores is close to the mode of the control distribution, but there is an almost as large mass at a higher level. This might suggest that, quite understandably, (attention and) performance, in terms of recall, is affected by several factors beyond the type. In other words, not all the individuals with the relevant type display increased retention of information. While many vegetarians remain close to the mode for the meat-eating type, a large fraction obtains double the score, suggesting a substantial though heterogenous increase in the retention of information.

We also use regression analysis in order to control for potential omitted variables and net out some of the variation in the score data that is not related to our variable of interest (such as group size and ability). Robustness checks were performed with different specifications and alternative outcome variables, but the main conclusion remains the same: mean performance, in terms of information retention, is higher for the vegetarian type but not significantly so. However, these results should not be interpreted as a rejection of our original hypothesis about the importance of type for information retention, as our analysis is empirically underpowered due to the low number of vegetarians in the sample. More importantly, the method we propose is highly appropriate, easily replicable and cheap.


Information interventions are low-cost and can be effective. Understanding how they can be tweaked for best effect is an area of crucial research interest, in particular for such an area as climate-change curbing policy. We provide an easy and cheap method to investigate this further and hope that more future research will pursue this avenue.


  • Andersson, Julius J., 2019. “The ‘meatigation’ of Climate Change: Environmental and Distributional Effects of a Greenhouse Gas Tax on Animal Food Products.” London School of Economics
  • Berlin, Maria P. and  Benjamin Mandl , 2020. “Selective attention and the importance of types for information campaigns”, SITE Working Paper Series. 53.
  • DellaVigna, Stefano and Matthew Gentzkow, 2010. “Persuasion: empirical evidence.”, Annu. Rev. Econ. 2 (1), 643–669.
  • Djurens Rätt, 2018. “Opinionundersökning, Våren 2018.” Novus.
  • Fonseca-Azevedo, Karina and Suzana Herculano-Houzel, 2012. “Tradeoff between brain and body mass.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 (45), 18571-18576
  • McPherron, Shannon P. et al., 2010. “Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia.” Nature 466857–860.
  • Mozaffarian, Dariush, 2016. “Dietary and policy priorities for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity: a comprehensive review.” Circulation. 133(2), 187–225.
  • Perrotta, Maria, 2011. “Tax Meat to Save the Baltic Sea.” FREE Policy Brief Series.
  • Säll, Sarah and Ing-Marie Gren, 2015. “Effects of an environmental tax on meat and dairy consumption in Sweden.” Food Policy. 55, 41-53.
  • Thaler, Richard H. and Cass R. Sunstein, 2009. “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” Penguin Group.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Towards a More Circular Economy: A Progress Assessment of Belarus

20181119 Towards a More Circular Economy Image 02

This policy brief summarizes the results of our study, Shershunovich and Tochitskaya (2018),  on the circular economy development in Belarus. The aim of the work was to measure the circularity of the Belarusian economy using European Commission indicators. The analysis reveals that the circular economy in Belarus is still in the initial stage of its development. In 2016, the employment in circular economy sectors in Belarus accounted for 0.49% of total employment, and the investment amounted to only 0.27% of total gross investment. Belarus is also falling behind many European countries in waste recycling.


The circular economy represents an economic system based on a business model of reduction, reuse, recirculation and extraction of materials in production, distribution and consumption of goods and services (Batova et al., 2018).

Transition to it offers great opportunities to transform the Belarusian economy and make it more sustainable and environmentally friendly, while preserving primary resources, creating new jobs and increasing competitiveness of enterprises.

In order to encourage the transition to a circular economy, it is important to have a proper monitoring system based on reliable and internationally comparable data. It helps to track progress towards a circular economy, conduct policy impact assessment, and analyze whether measures being taken are sufficient to promote an economy that reduces the generation of waste.

To assess the development of a circular economy in Belarus, a set of the European Commission (EC) indicators was used to capture the evolution of the main elements of closing the materials and products loop. The EC monitoring system comprises 10 indicators which are part of 4 pillars: production and consumption; waste management; secondary raw materials; competitiveness and innovation.

The reasons to use this system for Belarus are as follows: first, there is no set of indicators that provide a comprehensive overview of a circular economy in Belarus, while the EC monitoring framework allows us to capture its main elements, stages, and aspects; second, Eurostat calculates circular economy indicators for the European Union (EU) countries on a regular basis, which proves the high level of their practical application,     relevance and robustness; third, the EC is constantly working on their improvement. Thus, the EC set of indicators can be a tool to monitor trends in transition to a circular economy in Belarus.

Tight spots of waste statistics in Belarus

While calculating the circular economy indicators for Belarus the following problems with data affecting the quality of statistics have been identified:

  • methodological issues;
  • challenges with recording and coverage;
  • insufficient degree of international comparability of data, in particular woth the EU countries.

Such methodological problems as the blurred boundaries between the definitions of ‘waste’ and ‘raw materials’, and the lack of criteria for categorizing substances or objects as waste allow enterprises to classify certain substances or objects not as waste and therefore not to file information on them. As a result, less than half of the enterprises which might generate industrial waste, report it. Therefore, the question arises whether the statistical data reflect the real level of waste generation, recycling, and disposal in Belarus.

Data on municipal solid waste (MSW) have proved to be one of the areas of most serious concern. Absence of direct MSW weighing makes the data on it very sensitive to the conversion factor from volume to mass units. The differences between the Belarusian and European waste classifiers and definitions of key concepts (‘waste’, ‘recycling rate’) complicate the data analysis.

In addition, since Belarus is the 3rd world potash fertilizers producer, the share of potash waste in the total volume of waste generation is very high (63-68%). Only a small portion of this type of waste stream is recycled in Belarus (no more than 4%) due to lack of appropriate technologies of potash waste utilization used internationally.  As only Germany counting as one of the world’s largest producers of potash fertilizers within the EU, to increase the comparability of data between the EU countries and Belarus, potash waste hasn’t been considered when calculating the circular economy indicators. Given all the above mentioned problems, some of the EU indicators have been adapted to the existing Belarusian statistical data.

Illustration of waste statistics problems

Waste statistics problems result in overestimation or underestimation of some circular economy indicators. A good example is the recycling rate of all waste, excluding major mineral wastes. Belarus, which is a country without a proper legal framework for the circular economy or a well-established secondary raw materials market,  had one of the best performances in terms of the recycling rate (72-80%) among the EU countries in 2010-2016. This fact reflects the problems with waste statistics rather than success in waste recycling in Belarus.

Table 1. Recycling rate of all waste excluding major mineral wastes, %, in 2010-2016

Source: for the EU countries and Norway – Eurostat. For Belarus – own calculations based on the data from the RUE “Bel RC «Ecology».

Actual picture of the circular economy development in Belarus

The indicators with minimum distortions in waste statistics show that some elements of the circular economy in Belarus are still in the initial stage of their development (tables 2, 3, 4, 5). Our study reveals that the recycling rate of MSW amounted to 15.4 % in 2014-2016, which is much lower than the EU average in 2014 and 2016. Thus, Belarus has a considerable potential to increase the recycling rate of MSW. The experience of Czechia and Lithuania shows that the MSW recycling rate can be increased relatively fast if efforts are made and resources permit.

Table 2. Recycling rate of MSW, %, in 2010-2016

Source: for the EU countries and Norway – Eurostat. For Belarus – own calculations based on the data from the SE  “Operator of SMRs” and Belstat.

In 2016, the recovery rate of construction and demolition waste in Belarus reached 81%, though this indicator fluctuated between 59% and 79% in previous years. However, it can be further improved as in some European countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Czechia, Poland and Lithuania) the recovery rate of this type of waste stream exceeds 90%.

Table 3. Recovery rate of construction and demolition waste, %, in 2010-2016

Source: for the EU countries and Norway – Eurostat. For Belarus – own calculations based of the data from the RUE “Bel RC «Ecology».

Despite the fact that the decoupling of economic growth from an increase in waste volumes is an important issue on the international agenda, trends in waste generation in many countries follow a development of GDP. In 2010-2012, the generation of waste excluding major mineral wastes per GDP unit (42-46 kg/thsd of $, PPP) in Belarus (table 4) was comparable with countries such as Czechia, Lithuania, Germany, Denmark, Sweden. However, in 2014 due to waste generation growth, this indicator in Belarus exceeded above-mentioned EU countries and approached the level of Hungary and the Netherlands. It was far above Norway that was the best performer among the European countries and a good example of how a country could really decrease waste generation.

Table 4. Generation of waste excluding major mineral wastes per GDP unit (kg per thsd constant 2011 international $) in 2010-2016

Source: for the EU countries and Norway the data on generation of waste excl. major mineral wastes – Eurostat. For Belarus – own calculations based on the data from the RUE “Bel RC «Ecology». For the EU countries, Norway and Belarus the data on GDP, PPP in constant 2011 international $ – The World Bank.

In 2012, the share of gross investment in the circular economy sectors in Belarus (table 5) decreased in comparison with 2010, however, since 2014 it have shown an upward trend. For the EU countries and Norway this indicator also includes investment in the repair and reuse sector. For Belarus this sector has not been taken into account in calculation due to lack of data. In addition, the gross investment in tangible goods is a bit different from the gross investment in fixed assets used for Belarus as the latter doesn’t include non-produced tangible goods such as land.  Yet, even bearing in mind these differences in calculation, the circular economy appeared to be underinvested in Belarus compared to the EU countries and Norway.

Table 5. Gross investment in tangible goods (% of total gross investment) in circular economy sectors in 2010-2016

Source: for the EU countries and Norway – Eurostat. For Belarus – Belstat.

The employment in the circular economy in Belarus accounted for only 0.49% of total employment in 2016, while in the EU countries and Norway this indicator was approaching 3%. This again proves the fact that Belarus has a long way to go towards the creation of a circular economy.


The analysis revealed contradictory results of the circular economy development in Belarus. While the country scores highly across some indicators compared to the EU countries and Norway, this to a large extent reflects the problems with waste statistics, rather than success in waste  management. The indicators with minimum distortions in waste statistics show that Belarus is falling behind leading countries in circular economy development. However, in the transition to a circular economy, the monitoring framework is an important component of this process, which permits to track a progress using the system of indicators. In order to ensure that these indicators accurately capture the key trends in the circular economy in Belarus it would seem useful to:

  • align the definition of ’waste’, ‘recycling rate’ with the international one, identify clear criteria for classifying substances or products as waste and secondary raw materials;
  • strengthen the accountability of entities for filing reports on waste;
  • improve the system of MSW and SMRs reporting and recording, and introduce MSW recording based on weighing wherever possible;
  • consider the option of improving the comparability of Belarus’ waste classifier with the European waste statistical nomenclature.¨


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Financing for Development: Two Years after Addis

20170611 Development Day

At the Third International Conference on Development Finance in Addis Ababa on July 13—16, 2015, the world committed itself to an action agenda to raise resources to realize the 2030 sustainable development goals. The question is how much progress the world has achieved two years down the road, when the initial enthusiasm and commitments are no longer in the immediate spotlight. This policy brief reports on the discussion from a conference on this topic, Development Day 2017, held in Stockholm on May 31.

The year 2015 has been lauded as a landmark year for sustainable development. As many as three major global agreements were negotiated and signed: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on Financing for Development. The latter may be less known, but is essential to the ambition to achieve the first since it concerns how to finance the necessary investments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The AAAA identified seven action areas spanning both the public and the private sectors, and involving both domestic revenues and international transfers (domestic public resources, domestic and international private business and finance, development cooperation, trade, debt and debt sustainability, systemic issues and science, technology and innovation). This event focused primarily on international commercial private capital flows, and indirectly on development cooperation as a facilitator and catalyst for such private transfers.

Combining good business and good development

A major theme of the conference was combining good business with good development. Should private companies also take responsibility for environmental and social sustainability, or is the “only business of business to do business”? If firms do engage in sustainability investments, does it eat into profits or does it rather create a competitive edge? Reading business journals, it is easy to get the impression that there is a win-win situation. This picture is, however, based on rather limited information and the relationship is fraught with methodological challenges as both profitability and sustainability investments may be driven by other factors (such as competent leadership), and firms performing well may have the capacity and feel the obligation to invest part of their surplus into corporate social responsibility (CSR). Hence, there may be a question of reverse causality.

At the conference, new research was presented using data on investments in low and middle-income countries from the International Finance Corporation that includes both measures of financial rates of returns and subjective ratings of environment, social and governance (ESG) performance. Simple correlations suggested a significant positive relationship, or a win-win situation. However, once care was taken to identify a causal effect from ESG on profits, the results became insignificant. That is, the causal effect of ESG investments on profits seemed neither positive nor negative. However, when looking at broader measures of private sector development, the results suggest that both profits and ESG investments have a positive impact on sector development. This implies that there are good reasons for the public sector to encourage ESG activities even beyond the direct sustainability benefits through for instance public-private partnerships but also regulations that encourage good behavior.

How should results like these be interpreted? The presentation spurred an interesting debate on what are reasonable expectations and whether “the glass is half full or half empty”. It was emphasized that systematically beating the market should not really be expected from any group of investments, so a half-full interpretation seems more plausible.

This debate also came up in a panel discussion on institutional investments in developing countries, and where the growing success of green bonds was presented. Though still small in absolute size (1-2% of the bonds coming to the market are green bonds), there has been an impressive growth in the last 3-4 years. Currently, the Swedish bank SEB is cooperating with the German government in developing a green-bond market in emerging markets. Some of the lessons emphasized from the green-bond market were the importance of being clear towards investors about the motivation and the value proposition, to package the information in a credible way emphasizing independent verification, and to continuously monitor and give feedback to investors.

From the institutional investor side, it was mentioned how important it is to tell investors a compelling story. This may be easier with regards to environmental sustainability relative to social sustainability, both in terms of conveying the urgency and in developing indicators that can be monitored and communicated. It was also argued that even though there are initiatives out there, emphasizing how sustainable investments can be competitive in terms of profitability (such as green bonds), it would also help to change the relative price on the other end of the spectrum, i.e. through regulations, taxes or other instruments that can make investments with particularly negative externalities less profitable.

Finally, an overarching theme of the discussion was the challenge to have institutional investments reach the places with the most needs, i.e. the fragile and least developed countries. If this is to happen, pension funds and insurance companies have to be allowed to take on more risks, and it would be essential to reduce the corporate risk in public-private partnerships (more on this below).

In a second panel discussion, different Swedish corporate initiatives, emphasizing sustainability, were showcased. For example, the Swedish steel producers’ association, Jernkontoret, showcased the Swedish steel industry’s vision 2050 with the target of domestically based steel production using hydrogen and with zero CO2 emissions. Another example is the Sweden Textile Water Initiative, launched in 2010 by major Swedish textile and leather brands together with the Stockholm International Water Institute, has created the first guidelines for sustainable water and wastewater management in supply chains. Currently working with 277 suppliers in 5 countries, the initiative features clear win-win situations and is now self-sustaining and in the process of going private.

Skandia, a major Swedish insurance company, emphasized the business costs of socially unsustainable situations with examples from the costs in Sweden of sick leave, and the costs for protection and security for Swedish retailers and mall developers. Positive preventive work focusing on rehabilitation and the development of blossoming and inclusive neighborhoods were featured. These examples showcased how the SDGs are feeding into the thinking and planning of the private sector in Sweden, and how important it is to identify the business cases for thinking about sustainability in order for this to become mainstream.

However, the case for private capital to be the panacea for reaching the SDGs is by no means obvious. The non-governmental organization Diakonia pointed out that for every dollar flowing into a developing country, more than two dollars are lost. The biggest loss is coming from illicit financial flows, and within this category, tax evasion is the biggest problem. While the private sector is key to development, the main contributions this sector can do for development is to pay taxes where they are due, abide by international standards, and be transparent and accountable to the citizens and governments in the countries where they operate.

Swedwatch, used two examples from Borneo and what is now South Sudan, to illustrate how investors at times turn a blind eye towards human rights and environmental abuses by private multi-national companies. Transparency, due diligence in evaluating human rights risks prior to investment decisions, and a readiness to push for compensation and remedy if abuse is still unearthed were pointed out as key components to avoid this type of malpractice.

Development cooperation as facilitator for private flows

The second main theme of the day dealt with the ability to use development cooperation as a catalyst for private investments.

Swedfund, the Swedish government’s development financier, emphasized the need to move fast and find a business model in which one dollar spent becomes ten dollars on the ground. Based on a business model around three pillars (societal impact, sustainability and financial viability) Swedfund focus on areas with relatively high risk and where private capital are in short supply, with the hope to foster job creation, inclusive growth and poverty reduction.

Sida, the Swedish main aid agency, showcased their guarantee instruments. Through partnerships with bigger actors such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank group as well as local banks in developing countries, Sida can shoulder part of the default risks involved when trying to reach more high-risk investors (such as small and medium sized enterprises) with great potential development impact. In this way, one dollar from the public aid budget can lure a multiple of dollars in private capital towards sustainable development.

The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) emphasized that governments generally lack a policy for how to deliver official development assistance (ODA) in a sustainable way and a strategy for how to enable capital flows from the private sector. A DAC initiative to better track all financial flows going towards development, beyond just ODA, was presented.

From the Center for Global Development, the case for using public resources to facilitate private sector insurance mechanisms against human disasters was presented (concessional insurance). Benefits emphasized from explicit insurance contracts included faster and better-coordinated payouts, more certainty that compensation will come, incentives to invest in disaster prevention (to reduce premiums) and involvement of commercial insurance professionals.

Importantly, though, it was emphasized that it is crucial that aid money are truly complementary in the sense that they crowd in private investments that otherwise would not have taken place (and not end up subsidizing private investors in donor countries). It was also emphasized that donors must not forget about the focus on the poorest and people in fragile states.

In some environments donors must shoulder 100% of the risk to lure private capital. In those cases alternatives must be considered. Sida emphasized the importance to match financial instruments with the appropriate context, i.e. there is a need to identify where different instruments should be used. For instance, big institutional investors need investments that are manageable, predictable, and of a reasonable size. Aid agencies can help through subsidized risk management, but also by helping build strong institutions in partner countries that can work as counterparts, and encourage public-private collaborations to package investment deals and reduce information asymmetries.

Where are we now?

Turns out that this is not a simple question to answer. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs presented the Swedish government’s priority areas – strengthening the implementation of SDG 5, 8, 14 and 16 (all goals can be found here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300) – and reported from a recent follow-up meeting at the UN.

In principle the Addis Agenda identifies action areas and connects areas and actors, which makes it possible for systematic follow-ups, and an inter-agency task force produces an annual report of the general state of the implementation of the Addis Agenda. The Swedish government has produced a report on the implementation of the AAAA covering all seven action-areas with examples of progress. This initiative was commended at the UN meetings, and together with the private sector engagement, as showcased during the 2017 Development Day, it paints a rather positive picture of progress and engagement in Sweden.

However, globally, there are many uncertainties and challenges. The Center for Global Development reported on the budget proposal of the US president, which among other things includes a 32% cut to topline funding for the Department of State and Foreign Operations. There are also plans to eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and to zero out US food assistance. On the other hand, in this fiscal year, the US Congress (controlled by the Republicans) increased the amount going into foreign aid compared to what previous president Obama suggested. What will eventually come out of the current president’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year is thus highly unclear.

Participants at the conference

  • Rami AbdelRahman, Sweden Textile Water Initiative
  • Frida Arounsavath, Swedwatch
  • Owen Barder, Center for Global Development
  • Eva Blixt, Jernkontoret
  • Magnus Cedergren, Sida
  • Penny Davies, Diakonia
  • Raj Desai, Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution
  • Ulf Erlandsson, Fourth Swedish National Pension Fund (AP4)
  • Måns Fellesson, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
  • Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, OECD-DAC
  • Anna Hammargren, Ministry for Foreign Affairs
  • John Hurley, Center for Global Development
  • Lena Hök, Skandia
  • Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environmental Institute
  • Mats Olausson, SEB
  • Anders Olofsgård, SITE
  • Anna Ryott, Swedfund
  • Elina Scheja, Sida