Tracking Spatial Inequality in Africa by Mapping Coal Plants

This project will look at global coal usage in a spatial context. For the research team working with Professor Maliniak and Professor Harish, one topic of interest is understanding why coal plants are located where they are. Some plausible explanations are proximity to coal sources, proximity to transport lines, or other political factors. Another topic this research project will explore is the effects coal plants have on communities. They are touted as having both positive (e.g. jobs and power generation) and negative (environmental and health) effects. Understanding the trade-off will help to determine the extent to which building and maintaining coal plants even makes sense. The project will use the global coal plants database together with spatial economic data from night lights and environmental data from air pollution models to better determine the trade off. Finally, this project will explore the political effects of coal plant construction by combining the global coal plants database with existing political data, such as the voting patterns of communities affected by these coal plants. Understanding the political ramifications of coal plant construction are important in building sustainable environmental policies. Specifically, this research project will explore these questions related to political economy, spatial inequality, and ethnic inequality in Africa. This will inform a narrative of ethnic inequality and spatial political power in Africa. The results of this study will contribute to the existing literature on spatial inequality, environmental justice, regulation and political accountability.

The research process will start by building a comprehensive database for use in mapping coal plants globally. Data on individual coal plants will be from the Global Coal Plant Tracker through End Coal. This information includes things like when the plant was commissioned, de-commissioned, size of the plant, whether the owner is a private or public entity, etc. The mapping will be combined and analyzed against geocoded ethnic boundaries in Africa provided by the Murdock Ethnic Map (1959) or Ethnologue, and regressed against maps of night lights, election results, and other sociological and political factors.

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