Recent literature shows a lively debate on how tocapture ecological and environmental aspects indifferent evaluation methods and the closely relatedissue of the (im)possibilities of monetization ofthese aspects. Although economists in general tend tofavour Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) aboveMulti-Criteria Analysis (MCA), part of the literaturesuggests that CBA falls short of being the onlydecision-making device for environmental problems,both for theoretical and practical reasons. This paperdiscusses both evaluation methods and the main resultsof a major, publicly-financed nature conservationproject in The Netherlands.
The evaluation method combines the straightforwardnessof CBA with the flexibility of MCA. Conceptually, itconsists of a MCA, the net result of a CBA beingintegrated as one of the criteria. The differentaspects of the nature conservation project that can bemonetized are incorporated into the CBA. Otheraspects such as changes in biodiversity or scenicbeauty are analysed in their own dimension,provided (cardinal) quantification is possible. Infact, the analysis consists of a very simple MCA, withtwo criteria: social costs and a quantitative measureof nature.
Quantifying the amount of nature in its own,non-monetary dimension is a key element of theempirical analysis. A detailed quantitative estimateis made of the improvement of nature, based upon 564species and 131 different ecosystems. The result ofthe evaluation is a trade-off at the national levelbetween ecological improvements (plus 18 percent) andsocial costs (DFl. 3.4 billion net present value). Dueto the detailed quantification of the effect on naturethe evaluation also yields results about thecost-effectiveness of four different instruments tocreate and to preserve nature. That part of theanalysis shows that complete withdrawal ofagricultural land for nature purposes in the projectin general is more cost-effective than subsidizingnature-friendly farming, although the former is moreexpensive.