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Essays on equity-efficiency trade offs in energy and climate policies

Juan P Sesmero, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Economic efficiency and societal equity are two important goals of public policy. Energy and climate policies have the potential to affect both. Efficiency is increased by substituting low-carbon energy for fossil energy (mitigating an externality) while equity is served if such substitution enhances consumption opportunities of unfavored groups (low income households or future generations). However policies that are effective in reducing pollution may not be so effective in redistributing consumption and vice-versa. This dissertation explores potential trade-offs between equity and efficiency arising in energy and climate policies.^ Chapter 1 yields two important results. First, while effective in reducing pollution, energy efficiency policies may fall short in protecting future generations from resource depletion. Second, deployment of technologies that increase the ease with which capital can substitute for energy may enhance the ability of societies to sustain consumption and achieve intertemporal equity.^ Results in Chapter 1 imply that technologies more intensive in capital and materials and less intensive in carbon such as corn ethanol may be effective in enhancing intertemporal equity. However the effectiveness of corn ethanol (relative to other technologies) in reducing emissions will depend upon the environmental performance of the industry. Chapter 2 measures environmental efficiency of ethanol plants, identifies ways to enhance performance, and calculates the cost of such improvements based on a survey of ethanol plants in the US. Results show that plants may be able to increase profits and reduce emissions simultaneously rendering the ethanol industry more effective in tackling efficiency.^ Finally while cap and trade proposals are designed to correcting a market failure by reducing pollution, allocation of emission allowances may affect income distribution and, hence, intra-temporal equity. Chapter 3 proves that under plausible conditions on preferences and technology increasing efficiency requires greater transfers to low income households the higher the effect of these transfers on the price of permits and the lower their effect on the price of consumption goods. This denotes market conditions under which efficiency and equity are complementary goals.^

Subject Area

Climate Change|Economics, Agricultural|Sustainability|Energy

Recommended Citation

Sesmero, Juan P, "Essays on equity-efficiency trade offs in energy and climate policies" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3404532.