NEWS 2023-07-08

Spreading Environmental Economics Worldwide

As a tribute to the legacy of environmental economist professor Karl-Göran Mäler (1939-2020), co-founder and former director of the Beijer Institute, a special issue of the journal Environmental & Resource Economics has been published.

Photo: IStock

During his time in office, Karl-Göran Mäler took on the challenge of bringing high-quality university education in environmental economics to low- and middle-income countries across the world. The idea was that by teaching the teachers, knowledge would spread to future university teachers and decision makers in those countries. Several of his former students, students of his students, and former colleagues contribute to the special issue, which was edited by Beijer Institute deputy Director Anne-Sophie Crépin, together with Ed Barbier (Colorado State University) and Thomas Sterner (Gothenburg University).

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Only 3.3 billion can live sustainably at today’s living standards

The first article in the special issue is written by two former directors of the Beijer Institute board, Partha Dasgupta and Scott Barrett, together with Aisha Dasgupta. The paper focuses on the problem that humanity’s ecological footprint is substantially exceeding the biosphere’s capacity to supply goods and services sustainably. The authors use economic models and estimates of the ecological gap between demand and supply of goods and services from the biosphere, global GDP and its growth, and the rate of decline in natural capital to investigate three questions: 1) How much more efficient does conversion of nature’s services into GDP need to be in order to be sustainable? 2) What global population level could live sustainably at current living standards? and What living standards could be achieved if the world population reaches 9 billion by 2100? They show that: 1) efficiency must substantially increase to reach the sustainable development goals by 2030; 2) a sustainable level of population would be around 3.3 billion, markedly lower than today’s world population of 8 billion; and 3) the highest sustainable living standard for a population of 9 billion would be around 11,800 USD at 2011 price levels.

Informing about regime shifts effective in management

Another article describes work led by former Beijer Institute Mäler scholar Herbert Ntuli (University of Cape Town), together with Beijer colleagues Caroline Schill and Anne-Sophie Crépin and Edwin Muchapondwa (University of Cape Town), to design a new type of framed field experiment for assessing possible differences in outcome between policies for managing elephants and grasslands in Zimbabwe. These resources could suffer from regime shifts (abrupt change if some thresholds are passed). Despite the complexity of the problem, resource users were able to participate in the experiment, which resulted in clear and meaningful results. The authors found that informing resource users about the possibility of regime shifts led to a level of efficiency in management closely resembling that with other management options, such as harvest quotas with sanctions or a combination of harvest quotas and information about the threshold.

Case studies from around the world

The special issue also contains a review on valuation of ecosystem services across emerging markets and poor- and middle-income countries and several articles reporting on different case studies. These relate to: air pollution in Colombia; solid waste management in Nepal; payment for ecosystem services and rural poverty in Costa Rica; behavioural and policy aspects of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe; fishing and household nutrition in Ghana; and mangrove protection in Thailand.

In their introductory article, the editors acknowledge the contribution of Karl-Göran Mäler to the profession, not only as a great scholar but also as a warm, generous and fun human being. Their narrative includes explanations about the fields of research to which he contributed, anecdotes about his life and descriptions of how the contributions in the special issue relate to his research.

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Sterner, T., E.B. Barbier, and A.S. Crépin, 2023. Special issue in honour of Karl-Göran Mäler. Environmental and Resource Economics 84(3):649-876.