Charlotte Sophia Bez

Researcher in the Political Economy of the Environment

Welcome! I am Charlotte Sophia Bez, and this is my personal website. I am a postdoctoral fellow at the FutureLab CERES at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany. I am also a guest researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), where I work with Jan Steckel. 

My research focuses on the political economy of the environment. I study the political and economic obstacles to climate action, just transition narratives and how marginalized communities are disproportionally affected by environmental pollution. Besides my academic life, I have previously worked as a consultant for private and public entities. Sometimes, I write for news outlets, for instance here, here, here or here

Starting September 2024, I will be Fulbright Schumann and Joachim Herz scholar at the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School New York, where I will work with Dr. Ana Baptista and Dr. Yukyan Lam on just transition and environmental justice topics. In spring 2024, I have been visiting the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, as part of a cross-continental research grant by the Environment for Development Initiative.

I have a Ph.D. in Economics from the Scuola Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy, a joint program with the UCA-University of Cote d’Azur, Nice, France. From May to August 2022, I was visiting scholar at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, where I worked with Michael Ash and James Boyce. Moreover, I am an associated researcher at the Bureau of Theoretical and Applied Economics (BETA), Strasbourg, France, and fellow at Bocconi Lab in European Studies (BLES), Milan, Italy. I am also an associate of the working group "Crisis and Socio-Ecological Transformation" by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

 Publications and research projects

Exposure to International Trade Lowers Green Voting and Worsens Environmental Attitudes

with Valentina Bosetti, Italo Colantone and Maurizio Zanardi (Nature Climate Change, 2023)

From a political perspective, advancing green agendas in democracies requires obtaining electoral support for parties and candidates proposing green platforms. It is therefore crucial to understand the factors driving green voting and attitudes. Yet, limited research has explored the role of economic determinants in this context. In this study we show that globalization, through the distributional consequences of import competition, is an important determinant of support for parties proposing green platforms. Our analysis covers the United States and 15 countries of Western Europe, over the period 2000–2019, with trade exposure measured at the level of subnational geographic areas. We find that higher trade exposure leads to lower support for more environmentalist parties and to more sceptical attitudes about climate change. Our empirical findings are in line with the theoretical channel of deprioritization of environmental concerns, as trade-induced economic distress raises the salience of economic issues.

Environmental inequality in industrial brownfields: Evidence from French municipalities     

with Michael Ash and James K. Boyce (Ecological Economics, 2024)

Recent research on environmental inequality has extended its focus from ongoing pollution to legacy pollution by examining the geography of industrial brownfields, defined as nonproductive, contaminated land. This article is the first extensive brownfield analysis for a European country from an environmental inequality perspective, exploiting the political momentum in France where brownfield restoration has become a national priority. In doing so, we combine data on over 7,200 industrial brownfields from the 2022 geodatabase ‘Cartofriches’ with socio-economic variables at the municipality level. We demonstrate communities with higher percentages of foreign-born and unemployed persons are disproportionately more likely to be located near brownfields. The social gradient increases significantly in communities that host many brownfields, the so-called hotspots. There is an inverted U-shaped relationship with income, with a positive correlation until the 75th percentile (€23,700 annually). These findings are robust to different controls, including across urban and rural areas, though with regional differences. Further, we also account for the location of noxious industrial facilities sourced from the E-PRTR database to show the existence of cumulative impacts of environmental risks. Our analysis provides crucial entry points for restorative environmental justice considerations and has important implications for Europe’s just transition and cohesion policies.

Toxic pollution and labour markets: Uncovering Europe’s left-behind places

with Maria Enrica Virgillito (link to working paper)

This paper looks at the nexus between toxic industrial pollution and the spillovers from the plant’s production activities, leading to regional lock-ins. Geolocalised facility-level data from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) are used to calculate annual chemical-specific pollution, weighted by its toxicity. We combine the latter with regional data on employment, wages and demographics sourced from Cambridge Econometrics, covering more than 1.200 NUTS-3 regions in 15 countries, over the period 2007-2018. We employ quantile regressions to detect the heterogeneity across regions and understand the specificities of the 10th and 25th percentiles, the so-called left-behind places. Our first contribution consists in giving a novel and comprehensive account of the geography of toxic pollution in Europe, both at facility and regional level, disaggregated by sectors. Second, we regress toxic pollution (intensity effect) and pollutant concentration (composition effect) on labour market dimensions of left-behind places. Our results point to the existence of economic dependence on noxious industrialization in left-behind places. In addition, whenever environmental efficiency-enhancing production technologies are adopted this leads to labour-saving effects in industrial employment, but positive spatial spillovers at the regional level. Through the lens of evolutionary economic geography our results call for a new political economy of left-behind places.

A Political Backlash to Shifts in Coal Jobs? Lessons from Colombia

with Lennard Naumann and Jan Steckel

Phasing out coal is a pivotal part of transitioning to an economy less reliant on fossil fuels that is compatible with a 1.5°C climate pathway. Potential socio-economic impacts of declining mining activity include losses in income and employment, outward migration, and generally regional economic contraction. However, the political implications of mine closures in industrializing countries are yet to be understood. Indeed, shifts in coal employment are potential contributors to increased political polarization. We investigate the case of Colombia, a country heavily dependent on coal exports that recently elected a left-wing president who won on an anti-mining agenda. Using a unique data set, we show how municipality-level changes in coal employment impact voting outcomes, looking at presidential elections from 2014 - 2022. Our findings show that changes in mining are associated with more support for pro-mining and reformist parties, and less support for anti-mining parties, hinting at political polarization. Voter backlash hence can pose an political-economy barrier to the public acceptability of phasing out fossil fuels that is crucial to be taken into account when designing just transition policies. 

Converging visions, contested narratives: Media discourse analyses of South Africa’s Just Transition 

with Thomas Klug, Giacomo Raederscheid and Jan Steckel

The planned energy transition in South Africa away from coal has triggered diverse and clashing discourses surrounding the just transition. A rapid phaseout from coal raises concerns of job losses, energy affordability, and supply constraints, which could exacerbate already frequent blackouts from load shedding. In this study, we unravel just transition discourses in the media based on approximately 2,500 newspaper articles sourced from the LexisNexis database between 2008 and 2023. We combine two natural language processing tools–structural topic modeling and sentiment analysis–and qualitatively validate our findings in a mixed-methods approach. Structural topic modeling reveals 14 distinct topics that we classify into four unique narrative clusters, each representing a different just transition discourse. Two key narrative clusters emerge representing opposition or skepticism to calls for a just, rapid phaseout of fossil fuels in South Africa. The first set of narratives surrounds alternatives to fossil fuel phaseout, emphasizing concerns of energy security, and that only an incremental and carefully managed transition can guarantee sustained economic growth and the stable supply of electricity. Another two sets of narrative highlight the opportunities and practical aspects of implementing a just transition in South Africa. The first underscores the opportunity to transform South Africa into a green economy, leveraging investments from the JETP, in response to the imperative to phase out fossil fuels. Compellingly, we find converging visions across all narratives. Across all narratives, actors imagine the outcomes of a just transition to include employment creation, protection of vulnerable workers, access to affordable and reliable electricity, while addressing climate change and global climate injustices. Sentiments associated with the narratives vary widely, from very negative to very positive tones. Overall we find moderate polarization between narratives, which further suggests potential barriers and sources of political backlash to transition policies.

Can revenue recycling make fossil fuel subsidy reforms socially acceptable? A survey experiment in Colombia

with Farah Mohammadzadeh Valencia, Brigitte Castañeda Rodríguez, Jan Steckel, Jorge Garcia, and Jorge Bonilla. Collaboration between MCC Berlin and Uni Andes, part of EfD grant.

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies needs to be a cornerstone policy to reach the Paris Climate Agreement. A common concern for introducing adjustments to prices is related to the possible adverse (or regressive) impacts on poverty and inequality. Colombia is in the process of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, both for diesel and for gasoline. Since these types of policies generate public revenue, experts suggest to design pricing policies that include revenue recycling schemes. The underlying question we aim to answer is what type of revenue recycling scheme significantly increases public support for fossil fuel subsidy reduction (FFSR) in Colombia. We carry out a country representative survey experiment (N=4000 households) to test for different revenue recycling schemes and whether additional information on fairness, effectiveness and environmental impacts could further increase support. The results and analysis will highlight viable entry points for the development of climate policies and related communication campaigns in Colombia.

10 years of Indian coal discourse: Dynamic evidence from text-as-data 

with Arne Arens

The impact of South Africa’s JETP on coal discourses. Applying text-as-data methods to news media 

with Giacomo Raederscheidt

Industrial pollution and green economic fitness: A complexity approach

with Maria Enrica Virgillito and Angelica Sbardella

Industrial policy and sectors of transformation - Looking at left-behind regions

Book chapter for the German Jahrbuch Ökonomie und Gesellschaft 2024

Left-behind regions and the nexus work-health-environment

Book chapter for Phoenix project (Horizon 2020)

The carbon content of jobs

with Patrick Kloesel