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Research areas

The following pages present the broad research areas and list the current research projects. Please note the list of all research projects in chronological order here.

Water resources management

The department covers topics that deal with different aspects and different levels of water resource management. The research line (Forschungsstrang) “transboundary water management” adresses theoretical aspects of cooperation as well as empirical studies about the formation of water regimes at transboundary water bodies and the effectiveness of river basin authorities. Regionally, the projects relate to African transboundary water basins and the Middle East. The projects “Ecosystem approach of the Biodiversity Convention” and “ Biodiversity and international water policy" establish an important link to other global environmental regimes. Public and stakeholder participation in transboundary river basin management is being analysed for European, North American and African river basins.

At the national and local level, the institutional dimensions of the IWRM-concept, the political processes of its implementation and its socio-economic effects are being explored. Research projects include the irrigation and drainage sector, governance-options for water management in rural areas, recycling of effluents in agriculture, flood protection as well as river basin management. The projects focus on European countries, developing and transition countries.

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Biodiversity and Nature Conservation

The department is engaged in research on the socio-economic aspects of biodiversity and nature conservation on two levels: First, economic analyses are used to contribute to the process of defining objectives in nature conservation. Examples are research projects on the valuation of the population for certain aspects of preservation of biological diversity. Other projects estimate the effects of nature conservation on regional employment and income. Also, the implication of newer management pardigms, as the ecosystem approach, are being analysed regarding the objectives of conservation policy. Second, the department deals with institutional and instrumental issues concerning national and international biodiversity and conservation policy. Examples are projects on national and international aspects of implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity, on linking the international biodiversity policy to other international environmental issues (i.e. water, climate change) as well as projects on the possibility of applying economic instruments (environmental liability, taxes) to preserve biodiversity.

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Recreation and Urban Green

The use of nature and landscape for recreation purposes is a significant aspect of the services of natural resources and an important source for the appreciation by the population. Tourism and recreation lead to economic benefits of nature and create income in rural areas. The relevance of empiric research on recreational use, problem perception and attitudes of visitors and their appreciation of specific attributes of natural areas has increasingly been recognized. Also in urban areas, the recreational use of green spaces plays an important role. Generally, urban green areas are being used intensely, which makes the information on user preferences, regarding quantities and qualities of free spaces, of particular importance in a planning process.

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Economic Valuation of Environmental Goods

The economic valuation of environmental goods is an established research area in the field of environmental economics. In the beginning, the valuation for public goods has been based on observable behavior as an indicator of revealed preferences, methods of stated preference have been used increasingly since the 1980s. With structured interviews, hypothetical markets are being created and randomly selected people are asked about their willingness to pay for environmental changes. Next to the Contingent Valuation Method, choice experiments are being used increasingly. This method focuses more on single attributes of the goods that are being valued and thus lead to a broad range of information for the management of natural resources. A large number of studies on the reliability of the research findings improved not only the valuation methods used, but contributed also to the further development of microeconomics by confronting the microeconomic theory with empirical data, allowing new insight into the decision-making behavior of individuals. This became apparant by links between the valuation of public goods with methods of experimental economics.

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Governance, Institutions and Instruments

The analysis of institutions and their incentives on the use and the conservation of the environment and nature is an established, yet innovative component of economics and social sciences, examining the conditions of the effectiveness of the environmental policy in general and in environmental and landscape planning. A high share of research deals with institutional questions of the environmental policy, with a special focus on water policy and biodiversity poliy. Whereas the department emphasizes on institutional economics, approaches of the political science are being used as well. The analysis of institutions, particularly property rights of use and restrictions through planning as well as regulative instruments, is pursued prominently. However, the analysis of further governance structures, i.e. markets, contractual relationships, hybrid constellations and their effects are integrated thematically, both to analyse the effectiveness of instruments and to analyse the decision making processes.

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