From setting compensation for victims of oil spills to determining the storm-protection value of mangrove forests, environmental economics networks in Asia support research that makes the connections between economic growth, poverty, and the environment. Their approach is based on the premise that environmental sustainability is key to future economic growth.

The aftermath of the tsunami

The aftermath of the tsunami that struck the coast of Sumatra after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Research suggests that thousands of lives could be saved and devastation minimised if mangrove forests are left intact.

A vast number of people in developing countries depend on the environment for their livelihoods. But poorly functioning markets, incomplete property rights and misguided policies can drive people’s behaviour in ways that are harmful to the environment and future generations. Environmental economics has much to offer in understanding and influencing this behaviour, and in helping decision-makers spend limited funds where they produce the greatest benefits. It gives developing countries a unique tool to develop sustainably and leapfrog over the past mistakes of industrialised countries.

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has worked with other donor agencies and researchers across the developing world to build this field of applied research. Their efforts began in Asia, with the creation of the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) in 1993 and the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE) in 1999.

Both networks offer training programs and research grants on issues related to economy-wide environmental issues such as climate change and resource management. The goal: to identify the underlying causes of environmental degradation and apply economic principles to design solutions that reduce its impact. The networks also support promising young researchers through competitive awards. The average grant size is US$ 20,000 for a one- or two-year project. By the project’s end, each recipient writes a 20- to 40-page report for the networks’ working paper series, and an accompanying policy brief. The researchers are assigned an experienced advisor, who provides suggestions from the early stages of a proposal through to the final report.

Research supported by the two networks has had significant impact. For example, SANDEE funded groundbreaking work following the October 1999 super cyclone in Orissa, India. Researcher Saudamini Das, now an associate professor of economics at the University of Delhi, assessed the storm-protection value of mangrove forests and concluded that more than 90 per cent of the 10,000 lives lost would have been saved if the area’s mangroves had been intact. Her work has been published in prestigious scientific journals, including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.

EEPSEA-funded work has included the development of a widely cited climate-change vulnerability map of Southeast Asia, which drew on research in 530 subnational areas in seven countries. Among other projects, EEPSEA continues to support work on climate-change adaptation in the region’s most vulnerable places, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Current SANDEE supported research includes investigations into the impact of climate change on migration in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

EEPSEA receives funding from IDRC, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Canadian International Development Agency. SANDEE is supported by IDRC, Sida, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the World Bank.

For further information contact:

Dr Herminia Francisco
International Development Research Centre, Canada
Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia
Dr Priya Shyamsundar
South Asian Network for Development and
Environmental Economics