Master thesis

Environmental and Ecological Economics: Two approaches in dealing with economy-environment interrelations and the case of the Economics of Land Degradation initiative


Two economic schools of thought which aim to give answerers on how the economic system can contribute to environmental sustainability are discussed. A comprehensive analysis of the differences and commonalities between Environmental and Ecological Economics is given. The analysis comprises a discussion of their respective historic evolution, intellectual forerunners, pre-analytic vision, core analytic concepts and indicators employed. The analysis illustrates that the differences between Environmental and Ecological Economics outweigh the similarities. These differences are based in two completely different pre-analytical visions. This division reflects different strategies on how the economic system offers solutions to environmental problems.

The practical implications of applying a respective economic school of thought are explained through the United Nations Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) Green Economy initiative. This analysis emphasizes that in practice it does matter which economic school of thought is followed, since each of them calls for different strategies and policies. Finally, the results of the study reveal that Environmental and Ecological Economics have little in common apart from their goal and purpose and the employment of monetary valuation.

A second part of this thesis is dedicated to an empirical study on the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) initiative. Based on the results of part one, it can be concluded that collaboration between representatives of Environmental and Ecological Economics will be difficult if not impossible. In order to test this, ELD was analyzed. Key contributors to the initiative were interviewed so as to determine whether their individual stance was in line with either of the schools of thought. The results of the study showed that individuals usually do not strictly follow either of the schools of thought, but rather adopt aspects of both. Accordingly, it can be concluded that the individual level differences between Environmental and Ecological Economics are not as pronounced as theory, which in turn renders possible cooperation. Additionally, the analysis reveals that ELD does not officially state which school of thought they follow: ELD publications cannot be identified with one school of thought. This is in contrast to UNEP’s Green Economy initiative where an alignment can be found. It remains open to discussion whether a clear alignment is desirable or not. On the one hand, mixing the approaches may spur collaboration and the integration of more opinions and, thus, a more holistic and comprehensive approach. On the other hand, clear signals may be lacking as to which economic path to follow and which strategies to propose, which might be the most critical issue for the promotion of a sustainable future.

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