Monitoring the Greenbelt’s Efficacy: Keyi Fan at CEA2024

July 9, 2024 by Kate Baggott - Department of Economics

Is Ontario’s greenbelt having an impact on surface water pollution and environmental conservation?

It is a question Keyi Fan has dedicated the past year of her life investigating and, her last days as an undergraduate student, discussing with the country’s economists. A finalist in the Bank of Canada’s Best Undergraduate Student Paper Award, Fan presented her findings at Canadian Economics Association’s annual meeting at the end of May. The new Woodsworth College alum graduated two and a half weeks later with a specialist in economics and major in peace, conflict and justice.

Fan’s study investigates the impact of the Greenbelt as a major land-use planning policy for its impact on surface water quality in Southern Ontario. Her approach uses a dataset that combines high resolution water quality monitoring data with detailed information on water course characteristics and census boundaries. Fan then estimated the causal effect of the Greenbelt on key pollutants, including biological oxygen demand (BOD), chromium, lead, and cadmium levels.

She found that the Greenbelt significantly reduced BOD levels in river segments with a higher share situated in the protected area. In Fan’s view, her findings highlight the potential of land-use planning policies to generate significant environmental benefits. The research also provides valuable insights to policymakers and researchers interested in the design and evaluation of effective environmental conservation strategies.

Fan, who will begin master’s studies in September, welcomed the opportunity to present to members of the CEA.

“I got to present at a very early stage of my research and to hear all of the feedback,” she said. “And I can really integrate that feedback while I am editing the paper and looking for advice! Publication is such a long process, but I expect to finish my work by the end of the year and start submitting it to journals.”

Submitting the paper, both to journals and to the BoC contest, is a result of encouragement from professors Gustavo Bobonis and Eduardo Souza-Rodrigues who supervised the earliest version of the paper, which started out as Fan’s honours essay.

“Keyi’s success does not surprise me! Her work for ECO499 resulted in one of the most innovative undergraduate projects I have ever read,” said professor Gustavo Bobonis. “I send her my congratulations and best wishes as she starts her Master’s of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.”

Now that she has finished her first degree, Fan has managed to continue her research independently, but putting processes in place has demanded the help of friends. Jason Zuo, a recent engineering graduate, has been lending Fan his computer.

“I used public data, so I didn’t need to apply for funding to access it, but I only have an Apple laptop and the software I need to use to analyze the data is only available for Windows!” she explained. “I have been relying on Jason’s computer. He needs it during the day, but I can borrow it at night. I sleep for three-hour intervals, so I can wake up at night and do some more work before Jason needs his computer again.”

After months of being short on sleep, Fan’s presentation at CEA2024 brought a welcome break. She met one of Canada’s best known environmental economists, Professor Jennifer Winter of the University of Calgary. She has now started a summer internship under Winter’s direction at Climate Change Canada.