Does it pay to be green?
Dr. Marrouch is assistant professor and associate chairperson at the Department of Economics.
June 6, 2014—
In honor of World Environment Day (June 5), Dr. Walid Marrouch, assistant professor at the Department of Economics, talks us through his field of research, environmental economics, and its application in Lebanon.
What is environmental economics?
Dr. Marrouch: Environmental economics is a field of economics that studies the economic impact of environmental policies. It essentially looks into the costs and benefits of actions that protect the environment and tries to elucidate the interactions between the ecology and the economy. In order to improve environmental quality, you have to invest. Does it pay to be green? That is what the field is essentially concerned with.
How is it applied in Lebanon?
Dr. Marrouch: We worry about environmental problems in Lebanon, particularly solid waste and local water and air pollution. But the link between worry and policy-making is broken. The Ministry of Environment (MoE) should be conducting risk-assessment studies through which they identify pollutants and rank them in terms of severity before taking action. In Lebanon, we don’t engage in this exercise. We don’t conduct risk assessments; we just borrow the implications of assessment reports from other countries. Lebanon’s MoE has neither scientific nor economic researchers dedicated to conducting risk assessment and risk management.
The smoking ban, for example, did not involve an economic study specific to Lebanon. They based their regulation on imported information that was solely scientific. In order to be effective and ensure the buy-in of the people, local economic studies should always be conducted.
Why should Lebanon’s ministry be conducting its own economic assessments?
Dr. Marrouch: In terms of health impact, human beings are the same, but the cost and benefit implications are different across countries because every economy is different.
Country-specific studies are an essential tool in convincing the public that your policies are correctly designed and serious. Identifying the dollar value of the difference between costs and benefits has a real impact on determining how strict a policy can be and how much to invest in its implementation.
However, in Lebanon, the government does not prioritize environmental issues enough to give the MoE a decent budget and so it’s a very small and understaffed ministry that doesn’t conduct its own economic analyses.
How can we make environmental issues a policy priority?
Dr. Marrouch: If the public doesn’t see the problem, it will not feed into policy making. So instead of working with governments directly, which I think is ineffective, it is important to shape public opinion. This is the best strategy in the long term.
What we are doing at LAU, by offering a course in environmental economics and other such courses, is part of this effort to educate. When our students leave LAU, they will be talking, as part of society, about these problems and influencing public opinion. Education is very much key.
LAU’s commitment to developing a green curriculum is underscored in our latest five-year plan. I teach a course in environmental economics that was introduced two years ago. It will now be developed into a core course titled Environmental, Resource and Energy Economics. Other LAU schools also introduced new environment related courses and programs such as the Minor in Environmental Science and I expect that soon the university will be able to offer an interdisciplinary major in environmental studies.