Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU)

The Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) is a South Africa-based research group which seeks to enhance environmental policy-making through rigorous research, in order to attain sustainable development and poverty reduction in the region. It is based in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT). 

Governments in developing countries like South Africa need to understand that society is dependent on the environment for material production, and that a healthy environment is the basis of sustainable growth. If a country uses its environment with this in mind, it can drive development and address poverty effectively. Within this context, the challenge for policy makers is to bring their growth goals in line with careful natural resources management.

There is a gap in the interaction between knowledge organizations and policy makers in the environmental policy arena. To address this, EPRU works to enhance the interaction between academics, policy makers, and civil servants to ensure that decision makers are equipped to make evidence-based policy decisions.

Since its inception in 2007, EPRU is now a leading institution in the field of resource economics in the Global South, where academics and post-graduate students work in collaboration to understand environmental and natural resource issues in the region. 

Read more about the EPRU team here.


South Africa: middle-income economy is dependent on a healthy environment 

South Africa is a middle income country. Poverty continues to afflict millions of its people, while the link between poverty and the environment has long been recognised. South Africa is home to a wide range of environmental and natural resources, whose continued existence depends on responsible use. 

This is particularly true given that the majority of South Africa’s poor are heavily reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. Ultimately, economic development depends on institutions that can protect and maintain the environment’s carrying capacity and resilience. Efforts geared towards the sustainable use of environmental and natural resources can contribute greatly towards the eradicating poverty. 


EPRU’s core mandate 

EPRU draws is mandate from the aims of its parent organization, the Environment for Development (EfD) initiative: to study the links between the environment and development, to inform the public, to assist policy makers, and to build capacity. 

Central to EPRU’s work is to build capacity in South Africa’s and Southern Africa’s environmental-economics policy arena. The center does so by actively participating in the policy making process, providing assistance to local non-governmental organizations engaged in policy-related activities, and informing the private sector.    

EPRU’s specific objectives separate broadly into research, education, and dissemination, and aim to:  

  • continue building the research capacity that enables EPRU to conduct environmental policy analysis and provide demand-responsive research to meet the needs of the policy community;
  • increase the capacity of individuals in academic, public sector, and civil society organizations to use, understand, interpret, and advocate environmental economic research; and 
  • continue building capacity in research dissemination so that EPRU’s research findings are clearly and effectively communicated to all the relevant parties.  

Since almost all economic activities have implications for the environment, for resource use, or for sustainability, the discipline of environmental and resource economics is necessarily a broad church with many competing issues. 

The South African policy space faces a myriad of environmental and resource issues that require input from trained economists specialising in these issues. Although more universities are realising the importance of this field of research, the limited specialists in this area in South Africa has required that academics at EPRU become involved in a large array of issues and projects. Since EPRU’s inception in 2007, the focus has included poverty and developmental issues such as wildlife management, fisheries, energy, and water scarcity. 

EPRU’s senior researchers specialize in different fields of research, but with strong areas of overlap related to issues of sustainable development, behavioral change, and ecosystems management. The priority areas of specialisation relate to:

  1. Energy, water, and waste
  2. Land, living resources, and community wellbeing
  3. Climate change adaptation

EPRU has built an impressive repertoire of work across these three areas of research and has emerged as an important hub for high quality environmental-economics research in these areas in Southern Africa.


EPRU: the South African node for the global EfD Initiative 

EPRU is part of the global Environment for Development (EfD) Initiative, a network of similar centers in the Global South, with a secretariat based in Sweden at the University of Gothenburg’s Environmental Economics Unit. 

EfD consists of over 12 environmental economics research centers across the world, including  Central America, Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Sweden, Tanzania, Vietnam, and USA.

The EfD initiative enables EPRU to draw on a rich network of highly skilled academics trained in environmental economics, thus promoting international collaboration. Membership of EfD facilitates publication of research by providing direct access to the international working paper series located at Resources for the Future.

EPRU is predominantly funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) through the Environment for Development (EfD) Initiative managed by the Environmental Economics Unit (EEU) at the University of Gothenburg.

Contact information

Environmental-Economics Policy Research Unit (EPRU), School of Economics
University of Cape Town
Cape Town
Rondebosch 7701, Cape Town
South Africa
+27 21 650 4470