Peer-Reviewed Publications


Water-Security Implications of Coal-Fired Power Plants Financed Through China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Energy Policy, Vol. 132, September 2019, 1101-1109

Meir Alkon, Xiaogang He, Aubrey R. Paris, Wenying Liao, Thomas Hodson, Niko Wanders, Yaoping Wang

Abstract: As the world’s largest proposed infrastructure program, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will have significant implications for global sustainability and the future of energy generation in Asia. Pakistan, a keystone of BRI, presents an ideal case for assessing the impacts of BRI’s energy financing on sustainable development. We estimate the future water demands of seven new Chinese-financed, coal-fired power plants in Pakistan with a total capacity of 6600 MW. While these facilities may help address Pakistan’s energy shortages, our results indicate that by 2055, climate change-induced water stress in Pakistan will increase by 36–92% compared to current levels, and the power plants’ new water demands will amount to ~79.60 million m3. Our findings highlight the need for China and BRI destination countries to integrate resilience and sustainability efforts into infrastructure planning. Policy recommendations are offered to permit both sustainable development and responsible water resource management.

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Trust in Government and Subsidy Reform: Evidence from a Survey of Indian Farmers

Studies in Comparative and International Development, Vol. 53, no. 4, December 2018, 449-476

Meir Alkon and Johannes Urpelainen

Abstract: What accounts for the persistence of inefficient subsidies? What are the obstacles to their reform? We examine the role of trust in government among farmers in explaining support for reforming India’s energy subsidies. The subsidies under study hold back efforts to provide a reliable supply of agricultural power and contribute to the unsustainable extraction of groundwater. This water-energy nexus in rural India represents both a poverty-perpetuating policy equilibrium and a crisis in environmental governance. Informed by interviews and focus groups, we conduct an original survey of 2010 farmers in Bihar, Gujarat, and Rajasthan and analyze this data on the preferences of “vested interests”—those most affected by potential reform—to demonstrate the crucial role of political trust, especially trust in the national government, in predicting farmers’ political support for reforms. Our findings have practical implications for environmental governance and rural development and contribute to understanding the political economy of social policy reform in a developing democracy.

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Coverage: Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy, ThePrint, The Energy Collective

FDI, Poverty, and the Politics of Potable Water Access

Economics and Politics, Vol. 30, no. 3, November 2018, 366-393

Nita Rudra, Meir Alkon, and Siddarth Joshi

Abstract: How does foreign direct investment (FDI) affect the wellbeing of the poor? We address this question by analyzing the impacts of FDI on access to potable water. We predict that higher levels of greenfield FDI in water‐intensive sectors slow the rate of access to potable water in developing countries, with these adverse effects conditional on subnational politics. We hypothesize that this is more likely to occur in polities marked by relatively large poor and marginalized populations, where regulatory capture is more likely to occur. To test our intuition, we analyze subnational data on greenfield FDI in India, confirming that multinational investment in “thirsty” manufacturing sectors are negatively associated with improvements in potable water access. We then present a controlled comparison case study of two Indian states, Kerala and Rajasthan, highlighting the political mechanisms conditioning FDI's effects on potable water.

PDF: Publisher's Version | Un-gated


Do Special Economic Zones Induce Developmental Spillovers? Evidence from India's States

World Development, Vol. 107, July 2018, 396-409

Meir Alkon

Abstract: Do special economic zones induce local development? Research drawing on the case of China's special economic zones suggests that subnational polities can target the location of export zones in order to catalyze local and regional socioeconomic development. Since 2006, a number of Indian states have pushed forward similar zones in the face of accusations of land grabbing, arguing that the zones will be engines for improvement in exports, employment, and infrastructure. I argue that local development spillovers are an important, albeit previously understudied, dimension by which to evaluate the effects of special economic zones. I then present the first systematic analysis of the developmental effects of India's SEZs, leveraging an original dataset on their locations, together with 2001 and 2011 census data containing a host of social and economic developmental variables. The findings show these SEZs have failed to bring about local socioeconomic development. To explain this absence of developmental spillovers, I provide a theoretical framework based on the crucial role of political economy incentive structures facing local politicians. I outline the mechanism through which Indian state politicians use state-owned development corporations for rent capture, undermining the potential effectiveness of SEZs and leading to their developmental failures. The combination of available means for extracting rents and the limited political constraints on such rent extraction leads to a lack of developmental spillovers. This framework can also help to explain the difference in the effects of SEZs in India and in China. These findings have theoretical importance for understanding the conditions under which subnational polities can use export zones and other export policies to catalyze development, and practical implications for understanding the mixed pattern of SEZ success across the world.

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Pollution Lowers Support for China’s Regime: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Beijing

The Journal of Politics, Vol. 80, no. 1, January 2018, 327-331

Meir Alkon and Erik H. Wang  

Abstract: Using an eight-week-long original survey conducted day by day in Beijing in 2015, we leverage daily variation in air quality to estimate the causal effects of pollution on support for the Chinese regime. Our results show that pollution decreases satisfaction with both central and local governments and increases demand for oversight of government. Additionally, we time our survey to partially coincide with a period during which the government intentionally reduced air pollution, allowing us to exploit a unique instance of authoritarian environmental engineering. We show that government efforts to reduce pollution do successfully improve citizens’ evaluations of the regime. To our knowledge, this article provides the first causal estimates of the challenges to popular support posed by environmental issues in a developing country and also illustrates the specific ways in which public opinion under authoritarian governance is affected by pollution.

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Household Energy Access and Expenditure in Developing Countries: Evidence from India, 1987-2010

Energy for Sustainable Development Vol. 35, December 2016, 25-34

Meir Alkon, S.P. Harish, and Johannes Urpelainen

Abstract: Although most studies of energy poverty focus on whether or not households have access to modern fuels, expenditure is also an important issue, as households in developing countries spend a significant proportion of their total expenditures on energy. Using nationally representative household data from India, 1987–2010, this article describes and explains trends in household energy expenditure. While monthly household spending on energy has increased in many Indian states, this change is not driven by increased household affluence. Statistical analysis shows that when modern fuels (LPG for cooking, electricity for lighting and appliances) are available, households are willing and able to spend on energy. Indian households that have seen improved access to LPG and electricity have also seen much higher energy expenditures, whereas increased household incomes do not explain greater spending on household energy. For policymakers, the key lesson is that programs to improve access to modern fuels allow both wealthy and poor households to spend money on valuable energy services.

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Coverage: The Energy Collective