In Mexico, the laws and norms that regulate the environment emerged at the end of the 19th century to standardize infrastructure construction and preserve nature. However, it was not until the early 1970s that the first formal government entity dedicated to promote environmental protection, the Vice-Ministry for Environmental Improvement, under the Ministry of Health, was founded, mostly responding to a government initiative rather than social pressure. Other laws were then issued and applied by the Secretariat of Urban Development and Ecology. However, in the 1980s, civil society pressed for more regulations aimed at protecting the environment. In the 1990s, the Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP) was created, focusing on natural resources, biodiversity, hazardous waste, and urban-industrial environmental problems. Its objective was to reduce the trends of environmental deterioration and to promote economic and social development under criteria of sustainability. This and other institutions have evolved since then, covering a larger set of topics and media. Nevertheless, degradation has not been stopped and is far from being reverted, because even though there is a toolbox of policies and instruments, many of them economic, they have not been fully implemented in some cases or enforced in others because of economic and political factors. With the changes in institutions, legislation was also modified. Mexico became part of international environmental agreements and included the rights to a safe environment in the constitution. However, this legislation has not been enough to modify behavior because often the incentives either for regulators or for polluters themselves are not enough. Environmental degradation is a market failure. It can be shaped as an externality that markets alone cannot solve either because of overproduction, abuse of open access resources, or underprovision of public goods. In any of these cases, resolution comes only through government intervention. Regulations must include consideration of the benefits and costs they impose to change behavior. However, regardless of formal regulation, there are still a host of environmental problems that affect both urban and rural communities and Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, and there is a regulatory vacuum integrating environmental aspects with economic and social development issues. Examples of this are the Energy Reform of 2013 and the Law of Waters, as well as the Law of Biodiversity, where impacts on communities are often left aside, because of a de facto prevalence of economic activity over human rights. On the other hand, legal loopholes prevent adequate management of wildlife resources and sufficient treatment of hazardous waste discarded by industries, even if they are regulated. Furthermore, environmental regulations are based on corrective regulations, such as obligations, restrictions, and sanctions, but these have not strengthened their preventive character. It is still less expensive to pollute or degrade the environment than take measures not to. A shift in the paradigm toward policies that create incentives to protect the environment, both for polluters and regulators, may foster much better environmental quality.
Environmental Regulations in Mexico
María E. Ibarrarán and Jerónimo Chavarría
Evaluation of Environmental Policy with Q Methodology
Jon C. Lovett, Aseel A. Takshe, and Fatma Kamkar
Environmental policy is often characterized by differences of opinion and polarized perceptions. This holds for all groups involved in lobbying, creating, implementing, and researching policy. Q methodology is a technique originally developed by William Stephenson in the 1930s for work in psychology as an alternative to R methodology, which was dominant at the time. R methodology involves gathering scores from subjects being analyzed, such as those generated by intelligence tests, and then correlating the scores with factors such as gender or ethnicity. Obviously, the scores are heavily dependent on the choice of questions set by the researcher in the tests. In contrast, Q methodology commonly uses statements generated by the participants of the study, and it is these that the subjects are asked to score. This helps to avoid the type of bias that might result from a researcher formulating the statements presented to the subjects, though it is important to note that researcher bias is also present in Q methodology through selection of the statements and the type of quantitative analysis used. In studies involving evaluation of environmental policy, Q methodology is typically used to elicit opinions from subjects by scoring participant statements obtained from interviews or statements from secondary sources such as written reports, news articles, or images. These scores are then correlated using factor analysis, and statements that group together are compiled to create discourses about different aspects of the environmental policy under evaluation.
Air Pollution, Science, Policy, and International Negotiations
In the course of time, the framing of the air pollution issue has undergone a transformation. It is no longer viewed as either a local health issue or a transboundary problem affecting ecosystems but as a global issue that manifests at various levels and has links to various problems. This poses a challenge for processes fostering data collection, international cooperation, and science and policy networking to deal with the issue in its various manifestations. The experience at the Air Convention, officially the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE), shows that interaction between science and policymaking at various levels of scale can enhance each other if certain conditions are met. Alignment of, for example, air policy, climate policy, nitrogen policy, health policy, and biodiversity policy not only asks for cooperation at different scales (i.e., at the local, national, regional, and global levels) but also between different arenas of decision-making and negotiation. This means that joint processes of science and policy development are needed to identify where problem formulations meet, how procedures for data collection match or which indicators are comparable, and what is possible with regard to aligning sequence and focus of policymaking. These do not necessarily need to be, or even should be, processes leading to full integration of policymaking or scientific assessment. However, successful joint processes make clear to decision-makers what the (co-)benefits of certain emission reduction measures are for various policy problems while providing a more complete picture of the cost-effectiveness of these measures. History has shown that decision-makers start acting when they can see the benefits of certain policy options or when the costs of inaction exceed those of action. Policy options might range from emission reduction measures to investments in scientific infrastructure and international cooperation. It also helps when problems are viewed as relevant by those who have the power and resources to act. Observations, measurements, and scientific assessment have the potential to point to this relevance but so does informed, critical public opinion. Current international cooperation is aimed at maintaining a network of experts and continuing efforts in capacity building in countries. Also in cities, capacity building is crucial, which is more and more supported by citizen-led air quality monitoring initiatives.
Environmental Regulations in China
Haitao Yin, Xuemei Zhang, and Feng Wang
China’s environmental challenges are unprecedented in terms of their size and severity. The country’s constantly evolving regulatory systems are a blend of lessons learned from Western market- and information-based regulations, China’s own unique political and administrative context as an authoritarian country, the complex relationship between its central and local governments, and the balance between the needs for environmental protection and economic growth. A close look at China’s environmental regulatory system may offer useful insights to those working toward a more sustainable future. In the 21st century, the environmental regulatory system in China is entering a new era. Over the last three decades, efforts have focused on developing regulatory standards for air, water, and solid waste, among many other pollutants. This regulatory system primarily follows a command-and-control approach and is often criticized for its failure to curb China’s increasingly severe environmental degradation. In the future, the Chinese government may pursue two routes. The first is to increase the use of market mechanisms and information tools to enable and incentivize more stakeholders, such as consumers, nongovernmental organizations, and communities, to engage in the development and enforcement of environmental regulations, for instance, through cap-and-trade systems, information-disclosure programs, and environmental insurance. However, existing evidence shows that the usefulness of these new instruments is limited. Another route is to develop new mechanisms to strengthen the enforcement of traditional command-and-control regulations. Examples include making environmental performance a key performance indicator (KPI) in the performance appraisals of government officials or leveraging the power of financial sectors. These approaches are a footnote to the new argument in favor of environmental authoritarianism, which suggests that authoritarian regimes, setting authoritarian rules, may be more capable of handling complex environmental pressures. More studies need to be conducted on the effectiveness of these new approaches and the mechanisms by which they may achieve success.
Payments versus Direct Controls for Environmental Externalities in Agriculture
Alfons Weersink and David Pannell
The production of food, fiber, and fuel often results in negative externalities due to impacts on soil, water, air, or habitat. There are two broad ways to incentivize farmers to alter their land use or management practices on that land to benefit the environment: (1) provide payments to farmers who adopt environmentally beneficial actions and (2) introduce direct controls or regulations that require farmers to undertake certain actions, backed up with penalties for noncompliance. Both the provision of payments for environmentally beneficial management practices (BMPs) and a regulatory requirement for use of a BMP alter the incentives faced by farmers, but they do so in different ways, with different implications and consequences for farmers, for the policy, for politics, and consequently for the environment. These two incentive-based mechanisms are recommended where the private incentives conflict with the public interest, and only where the private incentives are not so strong as to outweigh the public benefits. The biggest differences between them probably relate to equity/distributional outcomes and politics rather than efficiency. Governments often seem to prefer to employ beneficiary-pays mechanisms in cases where they seek to alter farmers’ existing practices, and polluter-pays mechanisms when they seek to prevent farmers from changing from their current practices to something worse for the environment. The digital revolution has the potential to help farmers produce more food on less land and with fewer inputs. In addition to reducing input levels and identifying unprofitable management zones to set aside, the technology could also alter the transaction costs of the policy options.
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.
History and Assessment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Céline Granjou and Isabelle Arpin
The recent implementation of the IPBES is a major cornerstone in the transformation of the international environmental governance in the early 21st century. Often presented as “the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) for biodiversity,” the IPBES aims to produce regular expert assessments of the state and evolution of biodiversity and ecosystems at the local, regional, and global levels. Its creation was promoted in the 1990s by biodiversity scientists and NGOs who increasingly came to view the failure of achieving effective conservation of nature as the consequence of the gap between science and policy, rather than of a lack of knowledge. The new institution embodies an approach to nature and nature conservation that results from the progressive evolution of international environmental governance, marked by the notion of ecosystem services (i.e., the idea that nature provides benefits to people and that nature conservation and human development should be thought of as mutually constitutive). The IPBES creation was entrusted to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Social environmental studies accounted for the genesis and organization of the IPBES and paid special attention to the strong emphasis put by IPBES participants on principles of openness and inclusivity and on the need to consider scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge (e.g. traditional ecological knowledge) on an equal footing. Overall the IPBES can be considered an innovative platform characterized by organizations and practices that foster inclusiveness and openness both to academic science and indigenous knowledge as well as to diverse values and visions of nature and its relationship to society. However, the extent to which it succeeded in putting different biodiversity values and knowledge on an equal footing in practice has varied and remains diversely appreciated by the literature.
Water Supply, Sanitation, and the Environment
N. Vijay Jagannathan
Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 (SDG 6) has committed all nations of the world to achieving ambitious water supply and sanitation targets by 2030 to meet the universal basic needs of humans and the environment. Many lower-middle-income countries and all low-income countries face an uphill challenge in achieving these ambitious targets. The cause of poor performance is explored, some possible ways to accelerate progress toward achieving SDG 6 are suggested. The analysis will be of interest to a three-part audience: (a) readers with a general interest on how SDG 6 can be achieved; (b) actors with policy interest on improving water supply and safe sanitation (WSS) service issues; and (c) activists skeptical of conventional WSS policy prescriptions who advocate out-of-the-box solutions to improve WSS delivery.