My research links economic models and ecosystem service models in order to inform environmental decision-making. Towards this goal, I am working to launch a new model combining the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) computable general equilibrium model with the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) model from the Natural Capital Project. This new model, GTAP-InVEST, builds on our new work published in Science that is able to calculate ecosystem service flows globally, at very high resolution (30m to 300m grid-cells), under a variety of future scenarios. We include this ability to calculate global ecosystem services in GTAP-InVEST to analyze how changes in future scenarios would shock the global economy through a computable general equilibrium. This allows us to identify the impact on indicators such as real GDP, trade flows, employment and commodity prices. Although this project started very recently, we have already seen exponential growth in the number of organizations interested in working with us and raised significant new funding.
The reason we made GTAP-InVEST is because there is a whole class of questions that can only be answered in an integrated, global framework that considers both landscape-scale processes and global dynamics such as supply and demand. This class of questions includes:
- What does it take to attain the sustainable development goals? How do we even measure that?
- What would broad implementation of commodity certification standards do to economic performance (and this would allow us to more precisely establish when and where the conservation benefit might be offset by changes in other countries or sectors.
- What does an optimized global payments for ecosystem services policy look like?
Thinking about economics more broadly, we’ve developed macroeconomic tools that have been massively successful at explaining how markets operate, how economies grow and how we consume goods. But as growth has accelerated, we have not had similar success at understanding how and where our economy will cause damage to the basic environmental processes that enable our growth. And conversely, we do not have good tools to assess how our economy will be affected by massive environmental risks, such as climate change or land-use change. My research agenda aims to provide new models that give answers on these challenges. I want to provide models that ministries of finance, offices of land-use planning, multinational corporations or others a set of tools that can handle these questions. Although many have linked environment and economy models before, our work is the first of its kind that links these with detailed, global models at both global and local extents. This is important because environmental processes have incredibly detailed spatial heterogeneity and pursuing the wrong action in the wrong location can lead to undesired consequences.
In addition to my current GTAP-InVEST research, I explore many other related research questions, such as:
- How can we meet food security goals while minimizing the loss of ecosystem services? (Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as Global Agriculture and Carbon Trade-Offs)
- How does the spatial configuration of a landscape affect how economic agents choose between ecosystem services and market goods?
- When and where do commodity certification standards (such as Bonsucro) change equilibrium outcomes for improved environmental quality?
- How can we modify traditional economic models of rational utility maximization to account for reciprocal behavior (and how can these models be applied to understand better human interaction in environmental commons dilemmas)?
Finally, my job market paper, “Food for Nature Payments: Cost-Effective Payments for Ecosystem Services Using Global, High-Resolution Data,” defines a spatially-explicit payments for ecosystem services (PES) policy. This paper presents two versions of the PES policy: one based only on public information and one that uses a sealed-bid auction to elicit private information from potential participants on their opportunity cost and the value of their land. Both versions increase the cost-efficiency of conservation investments while minimizing the private loss from forgone private production. The auction version, however, is more cost effective and works even with high degrees of information asymmetry while maintaining the truthful-revelation aspect of sealed-bid auctions. For additional information, see my preview description of Food for Nature Payments. This work is now being incorporated into the GTAP-InVEST model as a specific policy to assess.
For a full statement of research, please contact me directly.