Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-11172022-160803

Type of thesis
Essays on the Political Economy of the Environment A Just Transition for the Left-Behind?
Scientific disciplinary sector
Istituto di Economia - JOINT PHD IN ECONOMICS
relatore Prof. ROVENTINI, ANDREA
  • economic geography
  • environmental inequality
  • green politics
  • industrial pollution
  • just transition
  • labour markets
  • left-behind places
  • trade and deindustrialisation
Exam session start date
This dissertation explores the reciprocal relationship of political economy dynamics between socio-spatial deprivation and the environment. Economic deprivation and social inequality are heterogeneous across space and are produced and reproduced by environmental factors, both physical and attitudinal. The three core chapters of this dissertation investigate the political economy of the environment in order to understand the preconditions and obstacles for a just transition that tackles spatial inequalities. The novelty of this work lies in uncovering the environmental dimension of left-behind places, especially in Europe, but also in the US. Each chapter looks at a different perspective of regional employment and other socio-economic indicators. Chapter 1 introduces the topic and summarizes relevant literature. Through the lens of economic geography and technological change, Chapter 2 analyzes how toxic industrial pollution affects local labour markets through direct and indirect spillovers. From there, we move towards an analysis of the political economy with a focus on policy and politics. Chapter 3 looks at policy using the example of the brownfield fund established in France, which made restoration a national priority, however without recognizing the social equity dimension of the geography of legacy pollution. Chapter 4 looks at green politics by studying attitudes and electoral behaviour around environmental policy platforms and how they are affected by trade-induced economic distress. <br><br>The chapters provide the following four key insights. First, left-behind places, characterized by low employment, low wages and population outflow are economically dependent on the presence of active noxious industries, leading to regional lock-ins. Second, whenever environmental efficiency-enhancing production technologies are adopted this leads to labour-saving effects in industrial employment, but positive spatial spillovers at the regional level. Third, we show the disproportionate location of brownfields in economically deprived and foreign-born communities. This has strong implications for restorative justice considerations for the allocation of public funds to restore deindustrialized wasteland. Fourth, our results indicate that economic distress, here looked at through the channel of trade exposure, reduces people’s salience of environmental values; therefore emerging as a first-order determinant of support for green attitudes and parties proposing environmental platforms. <br><br>These findings have implications for the academic literature and policymaking. We disentangle the common narrative around tradeoffs between environmental sustainability and local economic benefits in the presence of harmful industrial activity, which makes the case for renewed attention to industrial policy. Moreover, our analysis provides entry points for evaluating environmental restoration policies with a special focus on the stratification of socio-spatial disadvantages. Lastly, this work has important implications for the political acceptability of a green transition; acting upon the climate crisis will only be politically feasible when related policies are perceived as fair and equitable. For instance, repercussions on and prospects for the labour market and the public perception around tradeoffs between mitigation and economic growth must be crucially been taken into account, especially in times of economic distress and rising social inequalities. Indeed, left-behind places and people should urgently become subjects of environmental struggles and policymaking.<br>