How useful are environmental safety standards in economics? - The example of safe minimum standards for protection of species

  • Hohl A
  • Tisdell C
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The use of environmental safety standards is being increasingly advocated, and economists are being increasingly required to adapt their policy models to take account of s6ch standards, e.g. by the use of transferable environmental damage quotas. The use of these standards may be a consequence of a greater desire to achieve more sustainable development and preserve the natural wealth available to future generations. An important means to this goal is to preserve biodiversity and genetic variability. Safe minimum standards for conservation of wildlife have been suggested as a way to achieve this. Sometimes safe minimum standards for conservation of species are defined in terms of their minimum viable populations and their minimum habitat requirements. However, as a review of recent scientific literature indicates, these safe minimum standards are very uncertain. Environmental safety standards have been integrated into economics in a variety of ways, e.g. via constraints to ensure sustainability at the macro-level, via minimum safety standards necessary to ensure survival of species. Despite the commendable support which safe minimum standards appear to give for nature conservation, they involve conceptual problems and uncertainties as outlined in this paper. In fact, safe minimum standards for the conservation of species do not exist - no standard ensures the continued existence of any species. This is not to deny that an improvement in standards can up to a point increase the probability of survival of a species for a specified period of time. It implies that minimum standards need to be cast in terms of those required to achieve a particular probability of survival of the targeted species for a specified period. It may, however, be impossible to achieve the goat specified, e.g. the probability of survival of a species aimed for, may be greater than can be achieved for any attainable standard. In general, the paper makes it clear that standards suggested by natural scientists and others need to be subjected to careful scrutiny before they can be used as a reliable basis for economic policy.

Author-supplied keywords

  • conservation of species
  • environmental safety standards
  • game theory
  • probability of survival
  • safe minimum standards
  • social choice

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  • Andreas Hohl

  • Clement A. Tisdell

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