Poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate and environmental problems. At the beginning of the 90s, state development aid agency Sida saw the potential of using environmental economic research as a tool for reducing poverty and generating more sustainable economic development.
“The poorest are the ones who rely the most on their environment for survival. Environmental economics can help to ensure a more effective use of natural resources compared to the way they are used today,” says Gunnar Köhlin, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Economics at the University of Gothenburg and leader of the initiative, Environment for Development, EfD, which is part of the environmental economics programme that is now to receive funding from Sida for an additional four years.
Since 1998, 20 young researchers from twelve different developing countries have undertaken postgraduate studies in environmental economics under the Sida-funded PhD programme run by the Environmental Economics Unit at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg. Admissions take place every other year and on each occasion, hundreds of young researchers apply from developing countries. Only four-five of them are accepted to the doctoral programme.
“Environmental economists that have studied in Gothenburg are much in demand on their return. They have been given high academic positions and pursue important research and function as advisers in their countries. One important aim of the EfD initiative is for researchers, not only those who have studied at Gothenburg, to return to their homelands and become productive within research, education and as political advisers. The creation of environmental economic centres at academic institutions has been an effective way of building up domestic capacity for sustainable development and preventing what we call brain-drain from developing countries,” says Gunnar Köhlin.
Since 2007, EfD centres have been established at leading academic institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, China and Costa Rica. Through this local capacity building, environmental economists contribute to better environmental policies and poverty alleviation. Furthermore, environmental economists are being trained on site via masters and postgraduate programmes in each country.
The Environmental Economics Unit at the University of Gothenburg coordinates the EfD initiative. The world’s most eminent environmental economics research institute, Resources for the Future in Washington DC, is a partner in the initiative, cooperating in research projects and the publication of articles and books.
Recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom, is among those who have acted as opponents at the defence of Sida-funded theses. Elinor Ostrom’s research team at Indiana University and Thomas Sterner’s research team at the Environmental Economics Unit recently launched a joint research project on human cooperation for the sustainable use of natural resources. This is also closely linked to the postgraduate programme and the EfD centres.
Environmental economics is about applying economic methods to, for example, analyse the emergence of environmental problems, evaluate environmental changes – particularly values that do not have a market price – and select effective policy instruments to tackle environmental problems and utilise natural resources in a manner that is sustainable in the long term.