The chair of Economics/Resource Economics at ETH Zurich was founded on 1 January 2003 in order to strengthen research and teaching in the field of economics and the natural environment. Having first been integrated into the Social Science department, the unit is now an integral part of the newly-founded Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC). As a discipline, resource economics builds on a long tradition in economic theory. Over the last years, it has become an increasingly important, active and innovative area in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Fostered by the broad current interest in the notion of "sustainable development", economic analysis of natural resource use is a major issue on today's research agenda.
The aim of sustainability calls for a coherent theoretical integration of the underlying social norms and the restrictions imposed by economic conditions. In particular, the way in which the state of the natural environment – especially the bounded supply of natural resources and energies – will limit economic development in the long run must be considered. Economic decisions, market prices, and environmental regulation are the main forces driving the stock of natural capital. Accordingly, economic theory and, in particular, resource economics, are challenged to provide adequate solutions for the trade-offs between environmental protection and economical needs faced by today's generations. Within the broader interdisciplinary approach to sustainability, research in resource economics has to be directed at finding and establishing the rules for a world society which is intrinsically compatible with its natural environment.
Research of the resource economics team at WIF, the Institute of Economic Research at the ETH Zurich, covers a broad range of aspects regarding the relationship between exhaustible and renewable natural resources and pollution on the one hand, and long-term economic development on the other. According to the inherent dynamic nature of resource problems, the recent research programme of endogenous growth theory plays an important role. Moreover, the numerous global interdependencies result in the integration of trade theory. Accordingly, the fields of research of the team not only cover resource and environmental economics, but also economic dynamics, sustainable development, growth theory and growth empirics, trade and development economics, as well as spatial and regional economics.
Within these fields, the group’s members are working on the following projects: Substitution of natural resources in multi-sector endogenous growth models; Foundations of the Environmental Kuznets Curve; Trade and growth: scale, reallocation and factor mobility effects; Resource prices, reallocation costs and sectoral change; Globalisation, capital mobility and tax competition: theory and empirical evidence; International environmental economics, global resource scarcity and pollution; Endogenous Growth, sustainability and recycling non-scale R&D-based endogenous growth; Sustainable investments and resource economics (SIREC); Integrative modelling of sustainable land use; Swiss financial centre watch: the banking sector as innovative value chain system; Economic analysis of natural hazards; Pension funds and sustainable investment decisions; Production and private education: a trade-off?; Incentive mechanisms for private provision of public goods. Many of these projects are carried out in cooperation with national and international research partners of several countries.
The chair actively participates in different networks, such as the Centre for Sustainability at ETH Zurich, CCRS - Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of Zurich, HazNETH - Network for Natural Hazards at ETH Zurich, CCFZ - Competence Centre of Finance Zurich and the Research Committees on International Economics and on Environmental and Resource Economics of the Verein für Socialpolitik. Regular activities of the chair include weekly resource economics research seminars at the ETH Zurich, the organisation of short courses in dynamic and environmental economics by international guest lecturers such as Professor Theo Eicher (University of Washington), and various seminars on ongoing research.
A highlight was the first international conference on sustainable resource use and economic dynamics (SURED), which was organised by the Resource Economics chair in Ascona in June 2004. This event was a major success in bringing together leading experts in the field and also in attracting many young researchers. Participants came from all over Europe as well as America and Asia. The combination of young and experienced researchers proved to be fruitful for discussions and laid the ground for future research corporations. The conference contributed to deepen existing contacts between the ETH and other international institutions and also helped to build up new research networks. As the response of the participants was very positive, the chair committed to organise a follow-up conference SURED II in 2006. In addition, the resource economics group is the organiser of the annual meeting 2005 of the Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics on Resource Economics, Technology, and Sustainable Development, at ETH Zurich in March 2005.
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