Combining economy and environment with Natacha Raffin

Photo de Natacha Raffin
Natacha Raffin joined ENS Paris-Saclay in 2022 as a professor of economics at the Centre d'économie Paris-Sacaly (CEPS). Her research focuses on economic growth and the environment, and their implications on health.


What is your background ?

I defended my thesis at the Université Paris 1 and the Paris School of economics, under the supervision of Kathline Schubert (University of Paris 1, Paris School of Economics). My thesis topic was "Environment, heath, education: A challenge for economic development?
I then worked as a lecturer at Paris Nanterre, in the EconomiX laboratory, before joining the University of Rouen Normandy as a professor from 2016 to 2022.

What is the focus of your research ?

I am interested in long-term growth issues, in connection with an environmental dimension.
I have chosen to approach the environment from an economic point of view, to define and measure it with economists' tools, to then establish growth models and analyse the dynamics and interactions between the economy and the environment and their consequences.  I have focused on a particular channel of transmission between these long-term trajectories, that of health.
Understanding the dynamics of the environment and the economy means asking the question of compatibility between the two. How can we continue to grow richer, to grow, while maintaining good environmental quality? Is this feasible? Why should some countries achieve this more quickly than others? These are all questions that structure my research. I study the choices that are made, the conditions that lead us to have different trajectories. If the economic conditions do not allow for sustainable development, leading to more degraded environmental conditions, this leads to undesirable effects on health, and the economy becomes trapped in what I call an 'environmental poverty trap'. I am interested in the choices people make that affect the economy and, in turn, the environment, to study the extent to which they can create virtuous or vicious circles.

Why did you choose to do research combining economics and the environment ?

I was very early on concerned by the inequalities that can be seen between different economies. We live in a limited space, with common knowledge, and yet we do not all have the same standard of living. I find it quite disconcerting that such different standards of living coexist, sometimes with only a few kilometres between them.
The study of growth patterns raises fundamental questions about long-term development. It is also very hopeful, because it assumes that we have tools that should enable us to live better.
Macroeconomics today combines approaches from economics, history, demography, but also cultural parameters... It is not a watertight field, and I find it very interesting to call on many very different disciplines.

These issues are particularly topical, does this have an impact on your research ?

The question of the links between health and the environment has emerged fairly recently in the work of researchers, mainly in the last 15 years. It was a question that seemed rather consensual and obvious, but which was nevertheless poorly understood by the public authorities. In my work, I propose to take into account the interactions between the various economic, health and environmental policies. The usual discourse does not consider simultaneously the different tools available to the states; however, a health policy alone will not compensate for the deleterious effects of pollution, and vice versa. Thus, we need to be able to play with several economic policy tools to propose a policy that has this dual environmental and health dimension. Our difficulties in combining health and environmental policies are certainly partly due to the specificities of our political system but also to the different time horizons that each of these policies intrinsically covers.
In short, there is still a lot of progress to be made in this field to convince people that environmental and health policies, whether curative or preventive, must be complementary to be fully effective.

How do you see your research in the future ? What area would you like to explore further ?

One health topic that particularly interests me is reproductive health. The demographic dimension is very closely linked to that of economic development, and I want to focus my research on this subject. The environment in which we evolve will have a direct impact on reproductive and demographic dynamics. There is also work to be done on the question of the transmission of health capital and exposure to pollution.
I also want to explore the notion of inequality. We are not all exposed to pollution in the same way, nor is access to care the same for everyone. So I find it interesting to work on the definition of economic policies to reduce environmental health inequalities.