ND-ECI Seminar: Michael Ross


Location: Zoom

Michael Ross 1

Please join the Environmental Change Initiative for a virtual seminar presented by Michael Ross, Professor at UCLA Department of Political Science.

The title of his talk is "Political Leadership Has Limited Impact on Fossil Fuel Taxes and Subsidies."


Abstract: For countries to rapidly decarbonize they need strong leadership, according to both academic studies and popular accounts. But leadership is difficult to measure, and its importance is unclear. We use original data to investigate the role of presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs in 155 countries from 1990 to 2015 in changing their countries’ gasoline taxes and subsidies. Our findings suggest that the impact of leaders on fossil fuel taxes and subsidies is surprisingly limited and often ephemeral. This holds true regardless of the leader’s age, gender, education, or political ideology. Rulers who govern during an economic crisis perform no better or worse than other rulers. Even Presidents and Prime Ministers who were recognized by the United Nations for environmental leadership had no more success than other leaders in reducing subsidies or raising fuel taxes. Where leaders appear to play an important role—primarily in countries with large subsidies—their reforms often failed, with subsidies returning to pre-reform levels within the first 12 months 62% of the time, and within five years 87% of the time. Our findings suggest that leaders of all types find it exceptionally hard to raise the cost of fossil fuels or consumers. To promote deep decarbonization, leaders are likely to have more success with other types of policies, such as reducing the costs and increasing the availability of renewable energy.

Bio: Michael L. Ross is a Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. He has published widely on the politics of climate change, fossil fuels, gender rights, and democracy. His most recent book, The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations has been translated into Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Kurdish, and Japanese and was named an "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice magazine. He has also written articles for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Harper's, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and his research has been featured in The Washington Post, Newsweek, Financial Times, and many other publications.

Ross is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development, a member of the editorial boards of World Politics and Comparative Political Studies, and has served on advisory boards for the World Bank, the United Nations, the US Interior Department, the Natural Resources Governance Institute and the Payne Institute. He has also held visiting positions at Oxford University and the World Bank, and was previously an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan.