Environment and development: penalized non-parametric inference of global trends in deforestation, pollution and carbon

This paper revisits the issue of environment and development raised in the 1992 World Development Report, with new analysis tools and data. The paper discusses inference and interpretation in a machine learning framework. The results suggest that production gradually favors conserving the earth's resources as gross domestic product increases, but increased efficiency alone is not sufficient to offset the effects of growth in scale. Instead, structural change in the economy shapes environmental outcomes across GDP. The analysis finds that average development is associated with an inverted $U$-shape in deforestation, pollution, and carbon intensities. Per capita emissions follow a $J$-curve. Specifically, poverty reduction occurs alongside degrading local environments and higher income growth poses a global burden through carbon. Local economic structure further determines the shape, amplitude, and location of tipping points of the Environmental Kuznets Curve. The models are used to extrapolate environmental output to 2030. The daunting implications of continued development are a reminder that immediate and sustained global efforts are required to mitigate forest loss, improve air quality, and shift the global economy to a 2°pathway.

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