Property Rights are essential and at the heart of western market societies. They provide socially guaranteed rights available to a user. This research reviews the history of property rights by looking into property theories starting from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and others. It then takes a closer look at the TEEB study (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing with regard to property rights.

The guiding question is how do we acquire property and what does that tell us about our understanding of to whom natural resources belong to. This research argues that property rights or rather the concept of property rights we find in the aforementioned documents are purely social and an industrialised world concept. This however has strong implications when we look for example at the way indigenous people look at natural resources. Mostly, property rights are unknown to them but documents such as the Nagoya Protocol or the TEEB study presuppose such an understanding of property rights. Instead it must be asked whether property rights are always the right choice and we also find that the highly relevant and future-oriented question of how natural resources should be governed, is answered with old concepts.

Initially focussing on the TEEB study and the Nagoya Protocol the focus will be shifted towards water resources and climate change adaptation. When developing and implementing climate change adaptation measures property rights could become a major issue and spark a debate about the redistribution of natural resources’ ownership. Property rights could then become an obstacle to successful adaptation to climate change as they contain the notion of excludability. Hence, property rights should be implemented carefully and they should take into account the rising public interest in water issues, as expressed through the recent increase in remunicipalisation processes. Considering property rights as the sole panacea could on the other hand lead to a decreasing interest in natural resources and decreasing natural resources in general.

This research has begun as part of Kevin Grecksch’s doctoral thesis where it was fuelled during expert interviews and documentary analysis on institutional climate change adaptation.

Publications: K Grecksch (2014). Adaptive Water Governance. Conclusions and Implications Regarding Adaptive Governance and Property Rights. University of Oldenburg. Doctoral Thesis.