The study shows that supranational governance can be effective in reducing emissions. However, it also reveals that a greater participation in the world economy, and in particular a shift to greater exports, can also be linked to higher emissions.

"While involved directives and programmes can be difficult and expensive to implement, forms of environmental governance can be relatively effective in reducing emissions," said Andrew Jorgenson of Boston College, US. "But other sorts of factors, such as export-oriented development, can and often do have unintended environmental consequences, including increased energy use and emissions."

Jorgenson says that there are ongoing debates within the environmental social-science community about the effectiveness of environmental governance. The former Soviet Union has provided a way to test changes in governance, as there are 25 nations in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia that have transitioned away from a centrally planned economy that lacked environmental policy. Of these 25, 10 have already joined the EU, and two more are hoping to do so.

To see whether the EU's stricter environmental regulation has paid off, Jorgenson and colleagues performed regression modelling on data from 1360 fossil-fuel power plants in the 25 transition nations. The regression modelling was two-level, taking into account factors at the plant level, such as size, age and capacity, and at the national level, such as population, world-economic integration, and EU membership status and duration.

The researchers found that plant-level emissions were lower on average in those nations that joined the EU, and emissions were lower for nations that had been members longer.

"We speculate that it is largely because these are nations that have had longer time to implement the various EU directives and programmes of relevance tied to energy, climate mitigation, and sustainability," said Jorgenson.

But Jorgenson adds that it is important not to overlook the fact that a greater integration with the world economy has also had the opposite effect for certain post-Soviet nations, whether new EU members or not.

"[There have been] higher facility-level emissions for plants located in nations in this region that have become more integrated into global production and trade networks," he said.

More generally, Jorgenson believes this work highlights the importance of accounting for political and economic integration when performing macro-regional assessments of facility-level emissions.

The researcher is now preparing a report on a global data set that will identify the profiles of extremely polluting power plants. "We consider this work to have both significant theoretical and policy implications," he said.

The study is published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

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