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Article

Rethinking Water Markets  

Rupert Quentin Grafton, James Horne, and Sarah A. Wheeler

Global water extractions from streams, rivers, lakes, and aquifers are continuously increasing, yet some four billion people already face severe water scarcity for at least one month per year. Deteriorating water security will, in the absence in how water is governed, get worse with climate change, as modeling projections indicate that much of the world’s arid and semiarid locations will receive less rainfall into the future. Concomitant with climate change is a growing world population, expected to be about 10 billion by 2050, that will greatly increase the global food demand, but this demand cannot be met without increased food production that depends on an adequate supply of water for agriculture. This poses a global challenge: How to ensure immediate and priority needs (such as safe drinking water) are satisfied without compromising future water security and the long-term sustainability of freshwater ecosystems? An effective and sustainable response must resolve the “who gets what water and when” water allocation problem and promote water justice. Many decision makers, however, act as if gross inequities in water access can be managed by “business as usual” and upgrades in water infrastructure alone. But much more is needed if the world is to achieve its Sustainable Development Goal of “water and sanitation for all” by 2030. Transformational change is required such that the price paid for water by users includes the economic costs of supply and use and the multiple values of water. Water markets in relation to physical volumes of water offer one approach, among others, that can potentially deliver transformational change by: (a) providing economic incentives to promote water conservation and (b) allowing water to be voluntarily transferred among competing users and uses (including non-uses for the environment and uses that support cultural values) to increase the total economic value from water. Realizing the full potential of water markets, however, is a challenge, and formal water markets require adequate regulatory oversight. Such oversight, at a minimum, must ensure: (a) the metering, monitoring, and compliance of water users and catchment-scale water auditing; (b) active compliance to protect both buyers and sellers from market manipulations; and (c) a judiciary system that supports the regulatory rules and punishes noncompliance. In many countries, the institutional and water governance framework is not yet sufficiently developed for water markets. In some countries, such as Australia, China, Spain, and the United States, the conditions do exist for successful water markets, but ongoing improvements are still needed as circumstances change in relation to water users and uses, institutions, and the environment. Importantly, into the future, water markets must be designed and redesigned to promote both water security and water justice. Without a paradigm shift in how water is governed, and that includes rethinking water markets to support efficiency and equitable access, billions of people will face increasing risks to their livelihoods and lives and many fresh-water environments will face the risk of catastrophic decline.

Article

Water and Development: A Gender Perspective  

Yoshika S. Crider and Isha Ray

The large and multidisciplinary literature on water for domestic use and gender has two primary foci: (1) the negative health and well-being impacts of inadequate access to safe water, and (2) the effects of women’s participation in water allocation and management decisions. These foci are reflected in both the research and policy literatures. Smaller bodies of work exist on water and social power, and on nonmaterial values and meanings of water. The term “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and nonbinary people, but the literature on water and gender to date is mainly concerned with women and girls, on whom inadequate water access places a disproportionate burden. The water and health literature during the Millennium Development Goals era focused overwhelmingly on the consequences of unsafe drinking water for child health, while paying less attention to the health of the water carriers and managers. Studies on women’s participation in water-related decisions in the household or community were (and to some extent remain) mixed with respect to their effects on equity, access, and empowerment. Both the health and participation strands often assumed, implicitly or explicitly, that water work was women’s work. Yet data on access was mainly collected and presented by household or community, with little effort to disaggregate access and use by gender. In keeping with the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals, the post-2015 literature has gone beyond a focus on infectious diseases to include the psychosocial stresses of coping with unreliable or inadequate water supplies. These stresses are acknowledged to fall disproportionately on women. A relatively small literature exists on the health impacts of carrying heavy loads of water and on the hard choices to be made when safe water is scarce. The negative impacts of inadequate domestic water access on girls’ education opportunities, on the safety of those who walk long distances to collect water, and on family conflicts have also been studied. Access is being defined beyond the household to prioritize safe water availability in schools and in healthcare facilities, both of which serve vulnerable populations. Both are institutional settings with a majority-female workforce. The definition of domestic water post-2015 has also broadened beyond drinking water to include water for cooking, sanitation, and basic hygiene, all of which particularly concern women’s well-being. Intersectionality with respect to gender, class, ability, and ethnicity has started to inform research, in particular research influenced by feminist political ecology and/or indigenous values of water. Political ecology has drawn attention to structural inequalities and their consequences for water access, a perspective that is upstream of public health’s concerns with health impacts. Research on participation is being augmented with studies of leadership and decision-making, both within communities as well as within the water sector. Critical studies of gender, water, and participation have argued that development agencies can limit modes of participation to those that “fit” their larger goals, e.g., efficiency and cost-recovery in drinking water systems. Studies have also analyzed the gendered burden of paying for safe water, especially as the pressure for cost recovery has grown within urban water policy. These are significant and growing new directions that acknowledge the breadth and complexities of the gender and water world; they do not simply call for gender-disaggregated data but attempt, albeit imperfectly, to take water research towards the recognition of gender justice as a foundation for water justice for all.

Article

Containing Carbon Through Cap-and-Trade or a Per-Unit Tax  

John A. Sorrentino

Carbon has been part of the Earth since its beginning, and the carbon cycle is well understood. However, its abundance in the atmosphere has become a problem. Those who propose solutions in decentralized market economies often prefer economic incentives to direct government regulation. Carbon cap-and-trade programs and carbon tax programs are the prime candidates to rein in emissions by altering the economic conditions under which producers and consumers make decisions. Under ideal conditions with full information, they can seamlessly remove the distortion caused by the negative externality and increase a society’s welfare. This distortion is caused by overproduction and underpricing of carbon-related goods and services. The ideal level of emissions would be set under cap-and-trade, or be the outcome of an ideally set carbon tax. The ideal price of carbon permits would result from demand generated by government decree meeting an ideal fixed supply set by the government. The economic benefit of using the ideal carbon tax or the ideal permit price occurs because heterogeneous decision-makers will conceptually reduce emissions to the level that equates their marginal (incremental) emissions-reduction cost to the tax or permit price. When applying the theory to the real world, ideal conditions with full information do not exist. The economically efficient levels of emissions, the carbon tax, and the permit price cannot be categorically determined. The targeted level of emissions is often proposed by non-economists. The spatial extent and time span of the emissions target need to be considered. The carbon tax is bound to be somewhat speculative, which does not bode well for private-sector decision-makers who have to adjust their behavior, and for the achievement of a particular emissions target. The permit price depends on how permits are initially distributed and how well the permit market is designed. The effectiveness of either program is tied to monitoring and enforcement. Social justice considerations in the operation of tax programs often include the condition that they be revenue-neutral. This is more complicated in the permit scheme as much activity after the initial phase is among the emitters themselves. Based on global measurement of greenhouse gases, several models have been created that attempt to explain how emissions transform into concentrations, how concentrations imply radiative forcing and global warming potential, how the latter cause ecological and economic impacts, and how mitigation and/or adaptation can influence these impacts. Scenarios of the uncertain future continue to be generated under myriad assumptions in the quest for the most reliable. Several institutions have worked to engender sustained cooperation among the parties of the “global commons.” The balance of theory and empirical observation is intended to generate normative and positive policy recommendations. Cap-and-trade and carbon tax programs have been designed and/or implemented by various countries and subnational jurisdictions with the hope of reducing carbon-related emissions. Many analysts have declared that the global human society will reach a “tipping point” in the 21st century, with irreversible trends that will alter life on Earth in significant ways.

Article

Economics of Hazardous Waste Management  

Hilary Sigman

Hazardous waste management involves treatment, disposal, or recycling of a wide range of different waste streams from industry, households, and others. The diversity of wastes and management methods means that many choices affect its environmental harms, which result from possible contamination of groundwater, surface water, soil, and air. Efficient public policies that would fully reflect such varied external costs are unlikely to be feasible. In practice, governments principally apply three policy approaches to hazardous waste: taxes on hazardous waste, liability for environmental damages, and standards-based regulation of waste management facilities. Hazardous waste taxes may help internalize environmental costs but do not reflect all the variability in these costs. By contrast, liability for environmental damage can make waste generators and managers confront environmental costs that vary with their particular choices. However, environmental liability is often linked to programs for cleanup of contaminated sites and may not create efficient incentives for active waste management because this liability does not reflect the social costs of the contamination. Regulation usually takes the form of technology and performance standards applied to treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) and affects generation decisions only indirectly. Research finds that public policies that raise costs of hazardous waste management, such as taxes and regulation, encourage less waste generation, but may also provoke detrimental responses. First, facilities may substitute illegal waste dumping for legal management and thus exacerbate environmental damage. Second, generators may ship waste to jurisdictions with weaker environmental protections, especially developing countries, giving rise to a “waste haven” effect. This effect may create offsetting environmental damage, facilitate destructive policy competition among jurisdictions, and worsen inequities in exposure to environmental harm from hazardous waste.

Article

The Value of the Environment in Recreation  

Gianluca Grilli

Natural environments represent background settings for most outdoor recreation activities, which are important non-consumptive benefits that people obtain from nature. Recreation has been traditionally considered a non-market service because it is practiced free of charge in public spaces and therefore of secondary relevance for the economy. Although outdoor recreation in natural parks became relevant during the 19th century, the increased popularity of recreation after the Second World War required tools for the assessment of recreational benefits, which were not considered in the evaluation of investments in recreational facilities, and increasing spending for recreational equipment captured the attention of outdoor recreation as an economic sector. In the 1990s, it was observed that many recreational activities were commercialized and started being considered equally important to tourism as a means to boost the economy of local communities. The expansion of outdoor recreation is reflected in a growing interest in the economic aspects, including cost–benefit calculations of the investments in recreational facilities and research on appropriate methods to evaluate the non-market benefits of recreation. The first economic technique used for valuing recreation was the travel cost method that consisted in the assessment of a demand curve, where the demanded quantity is the number of trips to a specific site and the cost is the unit cost of travel to the destination. After this first intuition, the number of contributions on recreation valuation exponentially grew, and new methods were proposed, including methods based on stated preferences for recreation that can be used when travel cost data that reveal consumers’ behavior are not available. A regular assessment of recreational benefits has several advantages for public policy, including the evaluation of investments and information on visitor profile and preferences, income, and price elasticity, which are essential to understand the market of outdoor recreation and propose effective strategies and recreation-oriented management. The increasing environmental pressure associated with participation in outdoor recreation required effective conservation activities, which in turn posed limitations to economic activities of local communities who live in contact with natural resources. Therefore, a balance between environmental, social, and economic interests is essential for recreational destination to avail of benefits without conflicts among stakeholders.

Article

Economic Causes and Consequences of Desertification  

Luca Salvati

Land degradation and desertification are composite processes that reflect how components of land capital have worsened over time, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Land degradation is intended as a truly socioeconomic issue because the idea and practice of use (and misuse) of land are socially constructed. In this perspective, soil productivity and land capacity, water consumption and landscape fragmentation, agriculture and sustainable development all reflect the vast ensemble of human-nature interactions. The intrinsic heterogeneity of land degradation processes at the global scale limits the development of mitigation actions. Comprehension of the socioeconomic processes underlying land degradation can benefit from a multidisciplinary approach that considers the intricate feedback between biophysical and economic dimensions. The mutual relationship between economic growth, social inequality, political action, and land degradation provides examples of the interplay among proximate causes and factors underlying desertification.

Article

Economic Issues Related to Asian Deforestation  

Stefanie Onder, James T. Erbaugh, and Georgia Christina Kosmidou-Bradley

The loss of Asian forests represents one of the most significant changes in contemporary land cover. Between 2000 and 2020 alone, an area twice the size of Malaysia has lost its tree cover as measured by Earth observation data. These trends have significant repercussions for greenhouse gas emissions, carbon storage, the conservation of biodiversity, and the wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), making Asian deforestation a phenomenon of global concern. There are many immediate factors that drive deforestation across Asia, but the conversion to commodity agriculture is the leading cause. Most notably, the expansion of oil palm and rubber plantations by both multinational corporations and smallholders has led to dramatic conversion of forests. The production of timber as well as pulp and paper has further contributed to significant deforestation, with the evolution of each sector often driven by government policies, such as logging bans. However, it is the underlying drivers (i.e., distal and proximate causes) that determine where and when commodity production displaces forest cover. They are particularly challenging to tackle in a globalized world, where consumption patterns driven by local population and income growth lead to environmental and social change in distant producer countries, including in Asia. Certification programs and legality requirements have been put in place to address these externalities with varying success. Deforestation in Asia is also facilitated by weak governance and regulatory frameworks, where forest rights are often unclear, and financial, technological, and human resources for forest monitoring are limited. Several contemporary forest governance strategies seek to promote sustainable management of Asian forests. Financial mechanisms such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and payments for ecosystem services (PES) schemes seek to provide economic incentives for forest conservation. Pledges and activities to remove deforestation from commodity supply chains seek to respond to consumer demand, promote corporate environmental and social responsibility, and reduce the extent to which commodity supply chains contribute to Asian deforestation. And multiple state-led initiatives across Asia to empower IPLCs aim to align forest management objectives between national governments, subnational administrations, and local people. Assessing the impact of interventions related to financial mechanisms, corporate responsibility, and local forest governance will be critical to shaping the future of Asian forest cover change.

Article

Hybrid Modes of Urban Water Delivery in Low- and Middle-Income Countries  

Alison Post and Isha Ray

Most urban residents in high-income countries obtain piped and treated water for drinking and domestic use from centralized utility-run water systems. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), however, utilities work alongside myriad other service providers that deliver water to hundreds of millions of city-dwellers. Hybrid modes of water delivery in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries are systems in which a variety of state and nonstate actors contribute to the delivery of water to households, schools, healthcare facilities, businesses, and government offices. Historically, the field has evolved to include within-utility networks and outside-the-utility provision mechanisms. Utilities service the urban core through network connections, while nonstate, smaller-scale providers supplement utility services both inside and outside the piped network. The main reform waves since the 1990s—privatization and corporatization—have done little to alter the hybrid nature of provision. Numerous case studies of nonutility water providers suggest that they are imperfect substitutes for utilities. They reach millions of households with no access to piped water, but the water they deliver tends to be of uncertain quality and is typically far more expensive than utility water. Newer work on utility-provided water and utility reforms has highlighted the political challenges of private sector participation in urban water; debates have also focused on the importance of contractual details such as tariff structures and investor incentives. New research has produced numerous studies on LMICs on the ways in which utilities extend their service areas and service types through explicit and implicit relationships with front-line water workers and with supplemental nonstate water suppliers. From the nonutility perspective, debates animated by questions of price and quality, the desirability or possibility of regulation, and the compatibility (or lack thereof) between reliance on small-scale water providers and the human right to safe water, are key areas of research. While understanding the hybrid nature of water delivery is essential for responsible policy formulation and for understanding inequalities in the urban sphere, there is no substitute for the convenience and affordability of universal utility provision, and no question that research on the conditions under which particular types of reforms can improve utility provision is sorely needed.

Article

Rethinking Hydropower: The Economics and Politics of Privately Owned Hydropower in the United States  

Lynne Y. Lewis

2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta, Maine (USA). Edwards Dam was the first federally licensed hydropower dam to be denied relicensing, and the dam was removed for the purpose of restoring the 10 anadromous fish species that use the Kennebec River. Since that time, numerous other small dams have been removed in the United States. The relicensing process considers benefit-cost analysis, yet remains fundamentally flawed in the consideration of the benefits of dam removals and fish passage. Successful dam removals rely (mostly) on local efforts and outside analysis.

Article

The Street-Level Bureaucracy at the Intersection of Formal and Informal Water Provision  

Marie-Hélène Zérah

Street-level bureaucrats (SLBs) interact directly with users and play a key role in providing services. In the Global South, and specifically in India, the work practices of frontline public workers—technical staff, field engineers, desk officers, and social workers—reflect their understanding of urban water reforms. The introduction of technology-driven solutions and new public management instruments, such as benchmarking, e-governance, and evaluation procedures, has transformed the nature of frontline staff’s responsibilities but has not solved the structural constraints they face. In regard to implementing solutions to improve access in poor neighborhoods, SLBs continue to play a key role in the making of formal and informal provision. Their daily practices are ambivalent. They can be both predatory and benevolent, which explains the contingent impacts on service improvement and the difficulty in generalizing reform experiments. Nevertheless, the discretionary power of SLBs can be a source of flexibility and adaptation to complex social settings.