Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 189–206 | Cite as

Behavioural Economics, Hyperbolic Discounting and Environmental Policy

  • Cameron HepburnEmail author
  • Stephen Duncan
  • Antonis Papachristodoulou


This paper reviews some recent research in “behavioural economics” with an application to environmental issues. Empirical results from behavioural economics provide a reminder that human behaviour is context-dependent, implying that policy may go awry if based upon models of behaviour which are inappropriate to the contexts in which decisions are made. Recognizing that agents may, in some contexts, systematically make mistakes raises challenging questions about the role of “paternalism” in government policy. The paper considers the research into hyperbolic discounting, and examines the implications for environmental policy. We develop a model of resource management under hyperbolic discounting, which shows that if a planner is unable to commit to a policy, the temptation to re-evaluate the policy in future could lead to an inadvertent collapse in the stocks of a natural resource.


Hyperbolic discounting Resource economics Time inconsistency Fishery Climate change Preference reversal 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cameron Hepburn
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Stephen Duncan
    • 3
  • Antonis Papachristodoulou
    • 3
  1. 1.New CollegeOxfordUK
  2. 2.Smith School of Enterprise and the EnvironmentOxfordUK
  3. 3.Department of Engineering ScienceUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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