On Balance: Reporting back: the World Congress for Environmental and Resource Economists in Gothenburg, Sweden

August 14, 2018

By Sonja Kolstoe

Gothenburg, Sweden hosted the 2018 World Congress for Environmental and Resource Economists, which met from June 25-29, 2018. The five-day conference was held at the School of Business, Economics, and Law, which is part of the University of Gothenburg. The conference was made possible by the joint effort of three major economics associations: the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE), the East Asian AERE (EAAERE), and the European AERE (EAERE).

To put into perspective the scale (and importance) of this conference, consider that this conference, which occurs only once every four years, attracted over 1,500 participants, with a program that included more than 1,000 papers, 30 policy sessions, 70 thematic sessions, a large poster luncheon, and six plenary sessions. During the parallel sessions, I and many others found ourselves struggling with the happy conundrum of having to choose among several high-quality concurrent sessions.

This was my first time attending a World Congress. As a non-market valuation economist specializing in revealed and stated preference methods, I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss these methods and network with others from around the globe. For me, the week started off on a high-note as Gina McCarthy, the opening keynote speaker, publicly praised stated preference methods and the rigor with which these studies are conducted. In a benefit-cost analysis (BCA), accounting for benefits of a policy often is more difficult than accounting for the costs, thus making non-market valuation a fundamental part of BCA. Methodological issues transcend differences in institutions, policies and applications, a major point and key takeaway from this conference. (Some of these issues are explored in a symposium in the Spring 2018 issue of the JBCA: The Application of BCA in Europe – Experiences and Challenges.)

Another highlight with direct applications to BCA was the policy session, “Best Practices in Revealed Preference Approaches for Nonmarket Valuation Methods that Inform Environmental Policy,” organized by Catherine Kling (Iowa State/Cornell University). The session included talks on best practices for hedonic property value studies, hedonic wage studies, and recreational demand models. The three papers presented in this session were commissioned by the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, and will be part of a future symposium on the topic in that journal.

The Best Practices session built on a recently published paper recommending best practices for stated preference studies (Johnston et al. 2017); this large scale effort in turn updated the findings in the report of the NOAA Blue Ribbon Panel on Contingent Valuation in 1993—an early effort that involved Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow, as well as other prominent economists and sociologists. The papers presented in the session further underscore the importance of work by economists to produce robust estimates of non-market values that can be used in BCAs, and thereby support evidence-based policy decisions.

A recurring theme in the plenary talks—as well as in many of the sessions—was the importance of economics to good policy making. Time after time, talks reinforced how economics has helped policy makers design better policies that seek to maximize society’s welfare. For example, in her talk entitled, “Compliance in Social Dilemmas: Insights from Experiments,” Lata Gangadharan (Monash University) discussed her work in experimental economics studying the use of competitive tournaments among firms, and how well-designed regulatory schemes and wage contracts can improve compliance with environmental regulations. A talk by David Hendry (Oxford University), “Climate Econometrics,” focused on the importance of model selection in time-series forecasting. Meredith Fowlie (University of California, Berkeley) spoke on “Carbon Pricing in the Real World” and discussed how studies using randomized control trials, and quasi-random experiments involving energy markets, can help us learn about carbon pricing and make the most of available data. Last, a talk by Nava Ashraf (London School of Economics) on “Human Nature and Human Development” discussed how lab and field experiments conducted by behavioral economists can help us better understand human behavior and develop products, programs, and policies that improve welfare.

The wonderful weather and social gatherings (coffee breaks, organized receptions, socials, and a Congress dinner) provided everyone with ample opportunity to follow the advice given by Thomas Sterner (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) and Asa Lofgren (University of Gothenburg, Sweden) at the start of the conference to “make the most of our time together by getting to know new people, challenge and improve each other’s ideas, and strike up new research collaborations.” I truly enjoyed my time in Sweden at this global “meeting of the minds”.

Sonja Kolstoe is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Salisbury University in the Department of Economics and Finance in the Franklin P. Perdue School of Business with a joint appointment in the Department of Environmental Studies in the Fulton School of Liberal Arts. Her research focuses primarily on the non-market valuation of environmental goods and services, using revealed- and stated-preference techniques. ​

References:

  • RJ Johnston, KJ Boyle, W Adamowicz, J Bennett, R Brouwer, TA Cameron, WM Hanemann, N Hanley, M Ryan, R Scarpa, R Tourangeau, and CA Vossler. 2017. Contemporary guidance for stated preference studies. Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists 4(2):319-405.

I want to thank Sandra Hoffman for inviting me to write this blog for the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis.