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Environmental Assessment Framework for Policy Applications: Life Cycle Assessment, External Costs and Multi-criteria Analysis

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The paper presents a framework for the analysis of external costs of environmental burdens, namely an impact pathway analysis, often coupled with the inventory stage of life cycle assessment (LCA). The ground rule is: quantify as much as possible in terms of burdens (pollutant emissions, etc.), impacts, and their monetary equivalent, then use multi-criteria analysis (MCA) for any remaining impacts that are considered to be too uncertain or defy quantification through to monetization. Although MCA could be used directly on estimates of burdens or impacts, monetary valuation provides a mechanism for consistent weighting of impacts categories based on assessment of public preference. Further advantages of extending LCA through detailed impact assessment combined with monetary valuation are that it greatly simplifies MCA by combining a large number of different environmental impact categories, thereby avoiding an unmanageably large number of criteria, and also facilitates cost benefit analysis (CBA). The risks are noted of inappropriate use of the tools or interpretation/use of the results, and recommendations are made for improved practice. These points are illustrated with examples. The key messages are: (1) that policies should be targeted correctly to give a clear signal which source of a burden should be reduced by how much; (2) that analysts should take into account the needs of policy makers and the link between the analysis and possible policy applications; and (3) that current LCA practice gives limited guidance in both areas, largely through a lack of consideration of the relative and absolute importance of different types of impact. However, this is precisely the strength of external costs analysis, particularly when used with MCA.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Ecole des Mines de Paris, Paris, France 2: EMRC, Reading, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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