“Grandfathering” grants preferential treatment to existing resource users over new entrants based on prior use. Grandfathering is based on the concept of first-in-time or prior appropriation and has been applied to a broad range of environmental and resource issues. We synthesize legal, economic, and political science perspectives and find that grandfathering removes incentives for users to anticipate regulations with proactive abatement. We analyze institutions ranging from long-enduring common-property regimes to climate negotiations to identify how grandfathering can be detrimental to sustainability, but we also show that it can be the only possible mechanism for bringing stakeholders to the table.
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