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photo 1-2: T. Reutemann, photo 3: P. Gorris, photo 4: B. Behera

Research profile

The research group "Behavioral Economics for the Environment" of the Alexander-von-Humboldt (AvH) professorship for Environmental Economics of the University of Osnabrück (UOS) is working on behavioral aspects of environmental policies. It is part of the Institute for Environmental Systems Research.

We are particularly interested in two types of modern policy approaches and the ways to combine them: economic incentives, in particular payments for ecosystem services (PES), and cooperative approaches based on self-regulation. These two approaches have developed independently and are based on apparently contradicting assumptions about what drives human behavior, namely (i) self-interest, requiring material motivations, or (ii) social and environmental preferences providing intrinsic motivations for sustainable action. However, individuals are more likely to have a mix of these motivations and to weigh them differently in contexts with strong or weak social norms. It is thus increasingly clear that neither approach alone will effectively address contemporary environmental challenges.

The general objective of the professorship is to analyze how to design effective and efficient policies to protect natural resources combining economic incentives and self-regulation. For this purpose, we aim at understanding: (i) how people make their decisions when they face an environmental dilemma in a given context, (ii) why and when people sometimes cooperate to protect natural resources, (iii) how policies can impact their intrinsic motivations to cooperate and, (iv) how to reinforce people’s social and environmental preferences.

We also analyse the performance of specific policies such as PES, considering insights from particular theories within behavioral economics, psychology and other related disciplines. In our analyses we use tools from experimental economics and game theory.

Finally, we intend to study environmental policies in different contexts in both developing and industrialized countries. Environmental problems analyzed include topics ranging from climate mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity conservation and water resources management.