Cees Withagen

Current position
: Professor of Environmental Economics at VU University, Amsterdam

Year of birth: 1950


IDEAS profile: https://ideas.repec.org/e/pwi109.html



I do not even remember where I met Cees for the first time. I think he has simply always been there. Trying to find an environmental economics conference without Cees is like trying to find a fox with rabies: while it is difficult, yet not impossible, it is not really desirable. This is simply because Cees is a warm and fun guy, he talks to PhD students just like he would talk to well-known professors, and he shows genuine interest in everyone’s work.

His big passion is mathematical modelling of environmental and resource problems in economics, and without doubt one can say that he is among the best out there. A word that may describe his style of research is most probably: thorough. I believe his second big passion is Tango, but there you have to ask him for the details…

His recent work is mostly about the Green Paradox, and together with Rick van der Ploeg  they are the currently most ambitious tag team on this topic.

Cees is going into retirement in 2016. But be warned: retirement for an academic like Cees means no teaching obligations and the possibility of being back to full time research. This is the period in life where academics become even more productive, and I thus expect to see Cees at more conferences and to publish more papers than ever before!


 1.    Could you please give me a brief background of yourself and your main research interests.
I obtained my master’s degree at Tilburg University in 1974 in econometrics with a specialization in mathematical economics. In 1984 I received my PhD degree, also at Tilburg University. Currently I am Professor of Environmental Economics at VU University, Amsterdam, Department of Spatial Economics in the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration. I am a Fellow of Tinbergen Institute and CentER (Tilburg University) and a Research Professor at CESifo. Together with Rick van der Ploeg (Oxford University) I received an ERC Advanced Grant in 2011 to study the political economy aspects of Green Paradoxes.
My main research interest is in the economics of non-renewable resources and climate change, on which I published many articles and several books. Presently I focus on the various aspects of the Green Paradox, mainly in the context of economic growth and the dynamic and strategic interaction between importers and exporters of fossil fuel and the development of substitutes.
I am also associate editor of the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control and the European Economic Review. Furthermore, I am a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management and of the Scientific Advisory Board of Environmental and Resource Economics.

2.    What article/book of yours would you call your best?
“International Capital Markets, Oil Producers and the Green Paradox”, European Economic Review 76, 275-297, 2015 (co-authors Gerard van der Meijden and Rick van der Ploeg).
“Growth, renewables and the optimal carbon tax”,  International Economic Review 55, 283-311, 2014 (co-author Rick van der Ploeg).
“Characterizing the sustainability problem in an exhaustible resource model”, Journal of Economic Theory 148, pp. 2164-2182, 2013 (co-authors Tapan Mitra, Geir Asheim and Wolfgang Buchholz).
“Is there really a green paradox?”, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 64, pp. 342-363, 2012 (co-author Rick van der Ploeg).
“On price taking behavior in a nonrenewable resource cartel-fringe game”, Games and Economic Behavior 76, pp. 355-374, 2012 (co-author Hassan Benchekroun).
“Too much coal, too little oil”, Journal of Public Economics , 96, pp. 62-77, 2012 (co-author Rick van der Ploeg).
“Note on the open loop von Stackelberg equilibrium in the cartel versus fringe model”, Economic Journal, vol. 102, pp. 1478-1484, 1992, (co-authors Fons Groot and Aart de Zeeuw).

3.    Would you mind giving a list of essential articles that a young researcher in your line of research should read?
Copeland, B. and Scott Taylor, M. (2003), Trade and the Environment, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Dasgupta, P. and Heal, G. (1979), Economic Theory and Exhaustible Resources, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Seierstad, A. and Sydsaeter, K. (1987), Optimal Control Theory with Economic Applications, North Holland, Amsterdam.

4.    And could you be so kind and give a reference for a policy-oriented article or book that sums the research in your field for an interested policy maker?
Ploeg, F. van der and Withagen, C. (2015): “Global Warming and the Green Paradox”, Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, vol. 9 (2015)

5.    In what direction would you like to see environmental economics develop? What would be the obstacles?
I think environmental economics is developing quite well. We get more and more visible in general interest economics journals. Also many ‘main stream’ economists get involved in environmental economics (although occasionally some of them seem to re-invent the wheel). The quality of the work presented at conferences is high and increasing. We are addressing important policy problem, like biodiversity and climate change. More attention should be given to migration as a consequence of environmental catastrophes, and to equity issues, globally as well as locally.

6.    If you had to give young researchers in environmental economics some advice, what would it be?
It is a hard job. Get acquainted with physical ecological processes. Learn a lot about main stream economics. And try to find a good balance. The latter part is most difficult.

7.    How do you mostly get your ideas?
At conferences and from reading recent as well as old articles.

8.    Are you more interested in fundamental research or do you try to shape actual policy through your research?  Which impact would you say does your research have on policy making? And how do you think environmental economists could increase their say in the policy agendas?
Personally I think that my comparative advantage is in formal modeling of real world phenomena and derive interesting results, including policy recommendations, analytically. Sometimes the world is too complex and a numerical approach is needed, possibly after calibration. But, whether we deal with policy oriented research or with fundamental research, it is of utmost importance that the assumptions underlying the conclusions or recommendations are made as explicit as possible.

In the short run the impact is low. I hope that in the long run policy makers will understand that they can benefit from my work. I also hope that my students will get involved in policy making and use the insights I have been trying to give them.

Maybe it is not desirable that academic environmental economists get more say directly. As suggested above, it might be more fruitful if policy makers themselves are so well trained in environmental economics that they can benefit from the insights we offer.

9.    And now for a bit of fun. Do you know the concept of holidays or do you take your papers to the beach?
To be honest, I always try to combine work and pleasure. Take a few days off after or before a conference or a seminar presentation. During my ‘official’ holidays I sometimes read papers and books on economics, but after a few days I am able to put them aside.

10.    What is your favourite economics joke or anecdote from a conference?
Unfortunately, my favourite joke or anecdote cannot be posted here. My second-best anecdote is from an environmental economics conference where a self-appointed big shot bluntly attacked a young PhD student during a presentation. The chairperson got furious and made clear that it is totally inappropriate and unacceptable to act this way.

11.    Please feel free to suggest someone else whose answers you would like to see.
Many. Michel Moreaux, Lucas Bretschger, Geir Asheim, …