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ES Student Profile
Emmie Theberge '08
Environmental Economics Unit
As an intern for the Environmental Economics Unit (EEU) I was working for the government of Victoria, Australia. The EEU is a subdivision of the Environmental Policy and Climate Change (EPCC) division of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE). DSE aims to address the goals of the Sustainability Action Statement 2006 namely: responding to the challenge of climate change, maintaining and restoring Victoria’s natural assets, using resources more efficiently, reducing everyday environmental impacts, and fostering government leadership. The EEU aims to address these issues by: developing formal and informal links with experts in relevant areas of economics, applying contemporary economic principles to environmental and sustainability issues, and building the capability to test and analyze new policy mechanisms before they are released into the economy. I was involved with all of these roles.
As an intern I was directly involved in shaping policy related to significant environmental and sustainability problems in Victoria. I researched and analyzed various market-based instruments to redress some of Victoria’s outstanding environmental problems, namely water scarcity, landscape decline and native vegetation loss, and climate change. I worked directly under Dr. Veronika Nemes, a senior economist in the unit. While my tasks varied throughout the internship, we mostly focused on a specific initiative– BushBroker. BushBroker is a conservation auction where biodiversity offsets can be purchased to counter loss in native vegetation due to development. Native vegetation credits are listed on the BushBroker register and can be bought by another party and subsequently used as an offset for the approved clearing of native vegetation. The trading of native vegetation credits in this way provides benefits for landowners, developers and other land managers, the economy, and the environment. Landowners are offered an opportunity to improve biodiversity on their property as well as a potentially new income stream. Developers and land managers are provided with a convenient and cost-effective option to secure offsets. For the environment, BushBroker will lead to more sustainable offset arrangements with larger, more intact, areas of native vegetation and better biodiversity outcomes. It will help avoid the problems of managing numbers of small areas of native vegetation that are unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term. The BushBroker auction has been in place for a few years as a manual process where DSE has acted as a manager of the auction process by overseeing the registration, listing, extinguishing, and quality control of native vegetation credits. The buying and selling of native vegetation credits, including matching credits to specific requirements such as offsetting has also overwhelmingly been a role of DSE.
The new focus of the project has been and is to convert the manual auction system to an electronic auction, eBushBroker. This will increase the efficiency of the market and will increase the access to information for the various players in the auction. As an intern, I was asked to do three main things in regards to this transition: look at the drafts of the electronic BushBroker online and evaluate it for interface usability and effectiveness; revise the program’s user guide; and think of ways to incorporate a selection process for biodiversity site assessments. From this assignment came a very extensive review of the program. I redesigned interface pages and reordered some program functions, and fully revised the user manual. Additionally, I made a draft suggestion of how Expressions of Interest could be incorporated into the electronic system. These revisions and suggestions were reworked throughout the six weeks with my supervisor and finally sent to the auction’s chief architect, Charles Plott at Caltech.
In addition to working on the eBushBroker project I was involved in meetings and discussions on other market-based initiatives the EEU is working on. I did a number of literature searches and reviews and attended seminars at both DSE as well as Melbourne University.
I learned an extraordinary amount about environmental economics, environmental policy, and the daily functions of a governmental ministry. Through my literature reviews, discussions with my supervisor and other colleagues, and seminars I learned firsthand about environmental economics and its place in environmental policy. By being in a ministry office and sitting next to and going to meetings with climate change, water, and biodiversity people I grew to understand the role of economics in the broader goal of environmental policy and how these very different people work together to achieve the common objectives within the sometimes confining limitations of governmental work.