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Between Ostrom and Nordhaus: The research landscape of sustainability economics

Drupp, Moritz A., Baumgärtner, Stefan, Meyer, Moritz, Quaas, Martin F., von Wehrden, Henrik
Ecological economics 2020 v.172 pp. 106620
ecological economics, economic analysis, environmental economics, governance, social environment, surveys
We survey the emerging research area of sustainability economics through a quantitative full-text analysis of peer-reviewed journal publications from 1987 to 2013. To identify relevant contributions, we draw on existing definitions of sustainability economics for a keyword-based identification strategy: a combined focus on (a) the human-nature relationship, (b) the long-term uncertain future, (c) normative orientation towards sustainability, and (d) economic analysis. Our analysis of a random subsample of 343 relevant papers reveals that (i) sustainability economics is a rapidly developing research area; (ii) while theoretical contributions shaped the area in earlier years, applied work now constitutes the largest share of contributions; (iii) the research landscape can be clustered into eleven research clusters. These range from participatory governance of social-ecological systems associated with the work of Elinor Ostrom to questions of intertemporal allocation and distribution applied to climate economics associated with the work of William Nordhaus; (iv) the research area is broad in scope and heterogeneous, and there is relatively little interaction between important clusters; (v) relevant contributions are published in more than 100 journals. Ten journals publish half of all contributions, led by Ecological Economics, and 40% appear in non-economics journals, underscoring the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue.