Dr. Klaus Töpfer is the winner of the EAERE European Practitioner Achievement Award in Applying Environmental Economics 2011. EAERE has conferred this Award to Dr. Töpfer as a way of public recognition of his long list of achievements in putting the ideas of environmental economics into practice, both at a national (German) and international level.
Klaus Töpfer is a German economist, he studied economics at the Universities of Mainz, Frankfurt and Münster graduating in 1964. He completed his PhD in political science in 1968 with a dissertation on regional economic policy. He was a professor and directed the Institute of Regional Research and Development (1978-79) at the University of Hannover, Germany.
As a politician, he was German Minister of the Environment Nature and Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 1987 to 1994 and Minister of regional Planning, Building and Urban Development from 1994 to 1998. During his mandate as Minister of the Environment, he successfully promoted the introduction of market-based instruments of environmental policy, in particular in the field of waste management and recycling. From 1998 to 2006 he was UNEP’s executive director and Director-General of the United Nations office in Nairobi and promoted the dialogue between developing and developed countries. He was appointed founding director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V. (IASS Potsdam) in 2009, which researches the interplay between climate problems and sustainable economics.
He currently sits on the Advisory Board for the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) and is strategic advisor to Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) which aims to create the framework for generating sustainable and climate-friendly power in the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. Klaus Töpfer has left eminent marks in national and global environmental policies, favouring flexible instruments over command and control and, at the same time, taking equity considerations very seriously.
He is widely recognized as having spearheaded environmental policy as Minister of Environment and Reactor Safety in his home country Germany. He introduced ground breaking environmental regulations and laws such as the law on the life-cycle economy and the packaging recycling system “Green dot”. This regulation directly puts into practice what environmental economists have labelled as “marked-based” instruments of environmental policy. The success of the “green dot” regulation shows that the market can play an even bigger role than the environmental textbooks usually suggest. Not only is there a system of prices to be paid by the users of packaging materials; the regulation also confers the management of the system to the private sector. Instead of generating a new public-sector bureaucracy to deal with the issues, Klaus Töpfer passed this task to the private sector by imposing the threat that retailers would be obligated to collect the packaging waste from the final consumers if the private sector did not invent a recycling scheme achieving some defined targets. Thus, the industry – not the ministry – developed and managed the German “Green Dot” system. This can be taken as an example for environmental economists that still today favour market-based instruments of environmental policy but think that these instruments need to be administered by some public-sector agency.