Timothy Swanson

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Timothy Swanson is an American economics scholar specializing in environmental governance, [1] biodiversity, water management, as well as intellectual property rights and biotechnology regulation. [2]


He is a professor in resource economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, currently the holder of the Andre Hoffmann Chair in Environmental Economics. [1]

Tim Swanson - Walking in the Alps DTSC1315.jpg
Tim Swanson - Walking in the Alps


After receiving graduate degrees in economics and law at the University of Michigan, Swanson completed his PhD at the London School of Economics under the supervision of Nick Stern. Swanson currently holds the André Hoffmann Chair of Environmental Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, where he is also director of the Centre for International Environmental Studies. In parallel, Swanson is also affiliated professor at the University of Cambridge. Previously he held the Chair in Law & Economics at University College London and was research Director for the United Kingdom's National Centre on Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment. Prior to that, he began his academic career as a Lecturer in the Faculty of Economics at Cambridge University, 1991-1998. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Washington from 2004 to 2005. [3]


His research covers the issues dealing with legal reform and institution building in the areas of environment, intellectual property and technology. He has advised the governments of China, India, and many international and development agencies. [4]

His work on biotechnology and IPR has looked especially at how the gains from global agricultural innovation are distributed. [5] His work on China has presented the role of regulation in environmental and industrial policy, and looked at various case studies of its impact. [6] His work on water management has considered how water can be allocated between various activities in an equitable and efficient manner, and also how regulation of water can manage quality. [7]

Another body of work looks at international environmental problems, and the use of international law and institutions in their management. [8] In particular, Swanson has done much work in the area of global biodiversity and its management. [9] And, Swanson has focused on the conservation of wildlife and how important government management is in conservation concerns. [10]

In regard to international conservation, Swanson has argued that important issues in wildlife management are not a result of the tragedy of the commons as often thought, but that it lies in the failure of governments "to control access to wildlife and the land it occupies..., [in the] 'opportunity costs, alternative development priorities, governance problems and resources'." [1] In this analysis, the ivory trade is a consequence of government decisions to not invest in the maintenance of elephant populations, not an unintended outcome. [11]

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  1. 1 2 3 "Call of the wild". The Economist . Retrieved 22 May 2016. Timothy Swanson, a professor in resource economics at University College, London, argues that the tragedy lies not in the commons itself but in governments' failure to control access to wildlife and the land it occupies. The reason lies in their "opportunity costs, alternative development priorities, governance problems and resources". He illustrates this in a recent paper in the International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, about the losses of elephants before the CITES trade ban. When the African elephant's decline was at its worst in the 1980s, four countries were responsible for most of the losses: Sudan, Tanzania, Zaire and Zambia. Other governments, says Mr Swanson, had invested in retaining elephants, through the provision of land and resources for management. The bad four countries had a deliberate policy of retaining open access, in order that elephants be removed. They lost 750,000 elephants in a decade; 30 countries had no aggregate gains or losses and in several populations increased. Governments, he says, can protect and develop natural resources, such as tin mines and tea plantations. The reason they fail to do so for wildlife and forests is better viewed as a consequence of social choice than of imperfect property rights. There are plenty of examples of successful commons, from Swiss grazing pastures and Japanese forests to fisheries in Maine and Fiji. The problem with wildlife is a lack of social structure or formal rules that govern access and use. If governments do not provide them, wildlife will suffer.
  2. Swanson, Timothy. "CV" (PDF). Graduate Institute, Geneva.
  3. "Swanson". graduateinstitute.ch. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  4. "Timothy Swanson". repec.org. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  5. The Economics of Managing Biotechnologies. (editor), Kluwer: Dordrecht, 2002.Biotechnology, Agriculture and the Developing World (editor), Edward Elgar: London, 2002.
  6. Economic Growth and Environmental Regulation: the case of China, (with Tun Lin), Routledge: London, 2009.
  7. Managing Water Resources in Developing Countries, (editor with Koundouri, Pashardes and Xepapadeas), 2003, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham. Current Issues in the Economics of Water Resource Management, (editor with Panos Pasharades and Anastasios Xepapadeas), Kluwer: Netherlands, 2002. The Regulation of Chemical Accumulation in the Environment (editor With M. Vighi), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998.
  8. Global Environmental Problems and International Environmental Agreements, (with Sam Johnston), Edward Elgar: London, 1999 (reprinted 2001, 2003).
    • Biodiversity Economics, (editor with Kontoleon and Pascual) Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2007.A Global Framework for Biodiversity Conservation: Developing the Biodiversity Convention, Earthscan: London, 1997. Intellectual Property Rights and Biodiversity Conservation, (editor), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1995. The Economics and Ecology of Biodiversity's Decline: The Forces Driving Global Change, (editor), Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1995.
  9. The International Regulation of Extinction, MacMillan: London and New York University Press: New York, 1993. Economics for the Wilds, (with Barbier,E.), Earthscan: London, 1992.
    • Elephants, Economics, and Ivory, (with Barbier,E., Burgess,J. and Pearce, D.) Earthscan: London, 1990.