Abate or Adapt? Research by LAU Faculty Provides Timely Answers to Climate Action Debate

Drs. Djoundourian and Marrouch co-author a paper that provides empirical evidence to refute a widely contested theory on climate action.

By Raissa Batakji

LAU Associate Professor of Economics and Associate Dean at the Adnan Kassar School of Business Salpie Djoundourian has co-authored a paper that lays to rest one of the persistent debates on climate change policy, using empirical evidence.

Together with LAU Professor of Economics Walid Marrouch and Former Assistant Professor Nagham Sayour, Dr. Djoundourian has delved into the data on greenhouse emissions and emerged with a clear verdict that could feed directly into policymaking on the topic.

A historical overview of climate action

The year 1992 marked the very first time that nations formally came together to discuss climate change. Since then, the consequences of this phenomenon have grown more tangible and have affected some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

While this meeting – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – initially encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions without any obligations, subsequent annual meetings, dubbed the Conference of Parties (COP), evolved to focus on two main courses of action in combatting climate change.

The first was an agreement by the industrialized countries to reduce their emissions – the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997. More recent COP meetings introduced the complementary option to adapt by allocating funds that help nations mitigate the actual effects or potential risks of climate change. One example of adaptation funds enables farmers to invest in climate-resilient technologies and practices, such as seeking drought-tolerant seeds and using more sustainable water and land management tools.

The debate: abate or adapt?

The introduction of adaptation efforts as a means to cope with the impact of climate change has sparked a debate on the potential for “complacency” when it comes to emission abatement efforts. In other words, it raised fears that countries might “over-adapt,” and neglect any emission-reduction efforts, explained Dr. Djoundourian.

This view has become a key driver of the argument against providing adaptation funding. On the other end of the spectrum, “pro-green” or pro-climate action attitudes have suggested a complementary relationship between adaptation and mitigation, known as “the halo effect.”

However, so far, this debate has remained theoretical. “As it stands, there is no clear consensus about the impact of adaptation efforts on emission abatement,” clarified Dr. Marrouch.

An evidence-based response

Using a staggered difference-in-differences method to compare emissions of countries that received adaptation funding, to those that have not, the researchers found that adaptation funding “significantly and negatively affects various measures of carbon emissions,” stated Dr. Djoundourian, “proving the presence of the halo effect of adaptation funding.”

“This sends a message to policymakers to rest at ease knowing that enhanced adaptation does not induce additional emissions, but rather – in many instances – adaptation leads to lower emissions,” she noted.

Since adaptation and mitigation policies, put together, can contribute to achieving many of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, “these research findings can help alleviate concerns surrounding complacency and push toward securing funds for vulnerable communities,” added Dr. Djoundourian.

To browse more scholarly output by the LAU community, visit our open-access digital archive, the Lebanese American University Repository (LAUR).