Can poverty eradication be accomplished within environmental limits? Trade-offs and causal links

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Daniele Malerba


Poverty and climate change are the two defining challenges of our time. They are also closely inter-linked. On one side, climate change and environmental degradation make poverty reduction significantly more difficult. On the other side, poverty eradication may result in unsustainable increases in energy use and environmental pressures. This trade-off is at the basis of the research question addressed in the thesis: can, and in which ways is it possible to eradicate poverty within environmental limits, including the avoidance of climate change? The thesis empirically explores this question in three papers covering: (i) the impact of poverty reduction on the local environment; (ii) the role of energy factors in antipoverty policies; (iii) the trade-off between poverty and emissions at the country level, and the role of growth and inequality. The first two papers of the thesis examine the impact of two antipoverty policies (Bolsa Família in Brazil and Familias en Acción in Colombia) at the micro and meso levels. The findings underline the importance of mediating factors in shaping the heterogeneous causal relationship between poverty reduction and local environmental conditions. They offer evidence on the importance of energy factors for the success of antipoverty policies. The third paper moves the analysis to the macro level. It shows that the effect of economic growth on poverty is non-linear. Growth-related poverty reduction leads to increased emissions, but this effect can be ameliorated with decreasing inequality. It also shows evidence of a decoupling process between poverty and emissions in the more recent period. The paper also explores the importance of the welfare state in achieving poverty reduction within environmental limits. The thesis contributes to the existing literature in several ways. The studies explore the causal links between poverty reduction and the environment. Common endogeneity issues are addressed by the use of a quasi-experimental setting presented by the evaluation of a specific type of antipoverty policy, namely conditional cash transfers. From a methodological perspective the thesis introduces the use of multilevel models in the evaluation of antipoverty policies. This allows the empirical analysis of contextual and mediating factors, as well as the significance of different policy levels. The thesis also presents a novel use of high-resolution maps to estimate environmental outcomes. Finally, the study models simultaneous changes in poverty and emissions. More broadly, the findings presented in the thesis suggest that, in order to eradicate poverty within global environmental limits, a new development model needs to be adopted in developing countries. This is especially true for large developing countries such as China and India. Such a new model may be represented by green growth or by an increased use of redistributive policies. In this context, social protection policies may provide an effective tool to address both environmental and poverty challenges simultaneously. The findings also indicate that greater coordination between the different policy levels can work to reduce the trade-offs between them.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2017