Johns Hopkins researchers in the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP) at the School of Advanced International Studies have been awarded a grant “Climate Politics During Recessions: Examining Drivers of a Green Economic Recovery” to examine how government stimulus spending, in response to the coronavirus, balances growth and the environment. Jonas Nahm, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment at SAIS and part of the project team notes that “Meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals requires net zero GHG emissions by 2050. Yet, current emissions reductions are inadequate and the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn might detract policymakers from decarbonization efforts. What conditions lead jonagovernments to invest in decarbonization in an economic recession?”

Existing research shows that economic downturns often cause individuals and governments to prioritize growth over climate. Yet recessions also offer an opening for decarbonization through stimulus spending on infrastructure, transportation electrification, building efficiency, and clean energy technologies. ISEP Director and member of the Leadership Council for the newly formed Ralph O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI) Johannes Urpelainen, is excited to lead the research and suggests that an empirical approach with “comprehensive analysis of climate-related post-pandemic stimulus spending in G20 economies will fill a critical void in our understanding of domestic climate politics.”

The research team will identify the drivers behind stimulus spending by combining cross-national comparative analysis of spending packages with in-depth case studies of four advanced and four emerging economies. Nahm says “We expect that two factors determine whether and how governments use stimulus spending to invest in decarbonization: the relative strength of domestic economic interests and the permeability of the policymaking process to interest group influence.” The unexpected and near-simultaneous onset of the recession globally enables the team to consider green recovery efforts across both advanced and emerging economies and to examine the importance of pre-existing factors minimally influenced by the crisis itself.

The unique nature of the current recession and the universal use of stimulus packages to aid economic recovery offers an opportunity to revisit debates about the trade-offs between environment and growth and allows the team to build a cross-national explanation that addresses gaps in existing research. The research is being funded by the Research Council of Norway.