Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Environment

Further Developments and Policy Use

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This book explores recent developments in environmental cost-benefit analysis (CBA). This is defined as the application of CBA to projects or policies that have the deliberate aim of environmental improvement or are actions that affect, in some way, the natural environment as an indirect consequence. It builds on the previous OECD book by David Pearce et al. (2006), which took as its starting point that a number of developments in CBA, taken together, altered the way in which many economists would argue CBA should be carried out and that this was particularly so in the context of policies and projects with significant environmental impacts.

It is a primary objective of the current book not only to assess more recent advances in CBA theory but also to identify how specific developments illustrate key thematic narratives with implications for practical use of environmental CBA in policy formulation and appraisal of investment projects.

Perhaps the most significant development is the contribution of climate economics in its response to the challenge of appraising policy actions to mitigate (or adapt to) climate change. Work in this area has increased the focus on how to value costs and benefits that occur far into the future, particularly by showing how conventional procedures for establishing the social discount rate become highly problematic in this intergenerational context and what new approaches might be needed. The contribution of climate economics has also entailed thinking further about uncertainty in CBA, especially where uncertain outcomes might be associated with large (and adverse) impacts.

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CBA and other decision-making approaches

A significant array of decision-guiding procedures is available. This chapter shows that they vary in the degree of comprehensiveness where this is defined as the extent to which all costs and benefits are incorporated. In general, only multicriteria assessment (MCA) is as comprehensive as CBA and may be more comprehensive once goals beyond efficiency and distributional incidence are considered. All the remaining procedures either deliberately narrow the focus on benefits, e.g. to health or environment, or ignore cost. Procedures also vary in the way they treat time. Environmental impact assessment and life-cycle analysis are essential inputs into a CBA, although the way these impacts are dealt with in “physical terms” may not be the same in a CBA. Risk assessments, of which health-health analysis and risk-risk analysis are also variants, tend to be focused on human health only. The essential message is that the procedures are not substitutes for each other.

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