Thesis Topics Environmental Economics and Natural Resources

In general, students are expected to choose their own thesis topic, but we can assist you in defining it more specifically. On this page you can find a number of environmental economic issues, and the staff members involved in these topics. This list is not exhaustive, so if you have a thesis idea that is not included, don't hesitate to propose it! For more information on writing a thesis at the Environmental Economics and Natural Resources Group you can contact dr. Edwin van der Werf.


Socio-economic assessment of testing strategies for nanoparticles

Nanoparticles have become widely used in, for example, consumer products, food, packaging materials, textiles, or health supplements. Given their specific properties the use of nanoparticles is considered to generate enormous benefits to society. The hazardous properties and, hence, the risks to human health and ecosystems arising from an exposure to nanoparticles, are still incompletely understood. Testing provides information about the hazardous properties of nanoparticles and is, therefore, the usual starting point of any risk assessment.The aim of the MSc project is to develop a socio-economic approach for evaluating tests and testing strategies for hazard assessment of nanoparticles that accounts for test uncertainty. The research focuses on developing a cost-effectiveness analysis approach for assessing the relative performance of different tests used for hazard assessment. In addition, the approach will be applied to an illustrative example of the testing of silver nanoparticles. 

For more information on the socio-economic assessment of testing strategies for nanoparticles please see here and contact dr. Silke Gabbert.


Economic (e)valuation of laboratory animal welfare

The new European chemicals legislation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals explicitly supports the reduction and replacement of animal testing. Current testing schemes, however, are still largely based on laboratory experiments where large numbers of laboratory animals are used (in vivo tests). Addressing the problem how animal welfare concerns can be operationalized for developing new, more efficient testing strategies requires to develop approaches (tools) for evaluating the welfare loss caused to laboratory animals. The MSc project will explore economic approaches for the valuation of laboratory animal welfare. The approaches can then be applied in a case study in order to analyse the impact of including animal welfare loss in decision-support tools such as, for example, a cost-effectiveness analysis.

For more information on the economic valuation of laboratory animal welfare please contact dr. Silke Gabbert.

Approaches for transforming environmental impacts of chemicals into values for decision-making

Under the new European chemicals legislation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) chemicals of very high concern (particularly toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals) can only be placed on the market if its use is explicitly authorised by the European Commission. Applying for an authorisation requires that a company provides a socio-economic assessment (SEA) showing that the benefits of use outweigh the potential negative (human health and/or environmental) impacts of the chemical. The MSc project will explore how negative environmental impacts arising from the use of chemicals can be monetarised in order include these values in a standard cost-benefit analysis. The student will investigate if – and to what extent - existing of approaches for monetarising negative impacts as used in other risk management domains (water management, human health care, traffic) can be used or need to be modified. The valuation approaches identified will be applied to selected chemicals as a case study. In addition, the student will develop a database format for transforming environmental impacts into monetary values in order to support data compilation and the identification of existing data gaps.

For more information on approaches for transforming environmental impacts of chemicals into values for decision-making please contact dr. Silke Gabbert.

Climate change

Climate change is a global environmental problem with repercussions for industrialised as well as developing countries. Because of the scale of the problem, countries need to cooperate to develop effective and efficient climate policy. Therefore, economic analyses of climate change address such questions as:

  • How are the costs and benefits of climate policy distributed?
  • How can we develop cost-effective climate policy?
  • How can we balance concerns of cost-effectiveness or efficiency with concerns of equity and fairness?
  • How can we take into consideration the various uncertainties and irreversibilities in climate policy?
  • How can we make the emissions trading system work efficiently?
  • Would a carbon tax be better than a cap-and-trade system?

Techniques often used in such analyses include game theory to analyze strategic behaviour of countries in international negotiations, or general equilibrium modelling to analyze the effect of different policy scenarios on the economy.

For more information on the economics of climate change you can contact prof. Ekko van Ierland.

Student wanted: Discounting climate change

The influential Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Changefor the British government, released on 30 October 2006, started a revival of the debate on discounting the future benefits of climate change mitigations. The larger the discount rate, the lower is the optimal C02 emission reduction. We are looking for a student with good mathematical skills who is interested in critically evaluating various approaches to determine the appropriate discount rate. More information: prof. Ekko van Ierland.

Biodiversity and nature conservation

Biodiversity is a broad concept. It refers to the diversity of genes, species, and ecosystems on the planet. The range of topics related to biodiversity and nature conservation is therefore very broad:

  • Development of cost-effective networks of nature reserves;
  • Monetary valuation of ecological goods and services;
  • The role of uncertainty in policy-making on biodiversity;
  • Policy instruments such as agri-environment schemes.

Research on biodiversity is likely to combine economics with insights from such disciplines as population biology, landscape ecology and genetics.

For more information on the economics of biodiversity and nature conservation you can contact dr. Hans-Peter Weikard or dr. Rolf Groeneveld.

Student wanted: Spatial allocation of nature conservation

The question “where” to establish nature reserves is an important question economically as well as ecologically because of habitat fragmentation and variations in environmental quality and land prices. We are looking for a student with good modelling skills (preferably GAMS) who is interested in the development of spatial bioeconomic models to optimize the spatial allocation of nature reserves. A background in theoretical ecology and economics will be helpful. More information: dr. Rolf Groeneveld.

Cost-benefit analysis and monetary valuation of the environment

Cost-benefit analysis is a policy evaluation tool that is increasingly used to assess big public projects with serious environmental and social effects. Examples of these are highways, railroads, coastal protection, and big irrigation projects. What distinguishes cost-benefit analysis from other methods is its explicit aim to express all relevant effects in monetary terms. This means that a cost-benefit analysis takes into account not only the finencial costs and benefits, but also, for example:

  • The change in the quality of local residents' living environment, as reflected by the change in house prices
  • The change in tourism benefits, as related to what visitors will spend more or less in travel costs to visit the area
  • How much stakeholders should be paid to be compensated for any loss in environmental quality, as measured in a survey

Full cost-benefit analyses are expensive and labour intensive, so performing a complete cost-benefit analysis for your thesis may not be realistic. What a thesis on cost-benefit analysis could involve is the development, exercise, and analysis of a valuation survey, or a thorough literature research on the monetary value of some environmental effect or ecosystem service. Only if the topic is not too big, and data are readily available, could a cost-benefit analysis be the topic of your thesis.

For more information on cost-benefit analysis and monetary valuation you can contact dr. Rolf Groeneveld.

Student wanted: Standard figures of the economic value of environmental effects

Valuation studies are expensive. To avoid collecting original data for cost-benefit analyses, consultants like to use figures from earlier studies. There are many sources for such studies, and in The Netherlands a report is often used that is called "Kentallen Waardering Natuur, Water, Bodem en Landschap: Hulpmiddel bij MKBA´s". This report is written by Witteveen+Bos, a consultancy and engineering firm. The report contains many gaps, and the most recent version was published in 2006. Therefore, we are looking for a student who would like to update some of the figures in the report. This could be a BSc student doing a literature review on a specific environmental effect or ecosystem service, or an MSc student performing an original valuation study.

More information: dr. Rolf Groeneveld.

Biotechnology and bioenergy

Modern biotechnology (including the use GMOs and bioenergy) offers solutions for many environmental and nutritional problems. The technologies are not undisputed, and many of the concerns include environmental risks. Environmental-economic research into biotechnology and bioenergy addresses such topics as:

  • The expected environmental costs and benefits of transgenic crops;
  • Assessment of irreversible benefits costs of transgenic crops;
  • The economic value of animal genetic resources;
  • Political economy of biotechnology and bioenergy
  • Economics and policy of regulating new technologies (e.g. Cartagena Protocol);
  • Contribution to health and nutrition (biofortification).

A thesis on transgenic crops could apply theories on decision-making under uncertainty to policies regulating the new technology or analyze the social benefits and costs of bioenergy production. It could also, for instance, apply monetary valuation techniques to the valuation of consumer concerns.

For more information on the economics and policy of biotechnology and bioenergy you can contact prof. Ekko van Ierland.

Non-renewable resources and waste management

Many of the resources we use are non-renewable. The most well-known example are fossil fuels, but another example is phosphate, which is an essential fertilizer. Because of their non-renewability, the use of such resources needs to be well-planned, taking into consideration future generations. Moreover, we need to use (and reuse, and recycle) these resources efficiently. You can therefore think of the following topics:

  • How much recycling is optimal?
  • What role can economic incentives play in stimulating people to collect waste separately?
  • What barriers exist to investments in renewable energy projects in developing countries?
  • What is the right discount rate in dealing with problems that affect future generations?

A thesis on non-renewable resources or waste management is likely to involve cost-benefit analysis, general equilibrium modelling, or other economic modelling techniques.

For more information on the economics of non-renewable resources and waste management you can contact dr. Hans-Peter Weikard.

Student wanted: Phosphorus depletion and recycling

We are looking for a student with good mathematical skills and ideally some background in dynamic optimisation who is interested in writing an MSc thesis on phosphorus depletion and recycling. Phosphorus (P) is necessary for life as a macronutrient and cannot be substituted for this use. P-fertilisers must be available to sustain soil fertility and to ensure food security. The student will do his or her research in a project that aims at designing policies for the efficient use and recycling of P resources, taking into account international and inter-generational equity.

More information: dr. Hans-Peter Weikard.

Water management

Water is everywhere, but clean water for consumption or irrigation is becoming increasingly scarce. Economic analyses of water management deal with questions such as:
  • How should water trading be organized?
  • What are the costs and benefits of water management?
  • How should international agreements on international rivers be organized?
  • How can we allocate water within river catchments efficiently?
  • What economic instruments should we use to manage water?

A student conducting an economic analysis of water management is likely to collaborate with hydrologists. He or she may develop an economic model, perform a game theoretical analysis, or conduct a monetary valuation survey.

For more information on the economics of water management you can contact dr. Xueqin Zhu.

Student wanted: Water pricing and quality control

Water policies aiming at sustainable allocation and quality conservation of water becomes more and more important. The challenges in water management analysis include water pricing and dealing with externalities and compensation. We are looking for a student with good modelling skills (preferably GAMS) who is interested in the development of integrated water management models to optimize the water quantity use and to determine the optimal water quality level in a local water system. A background in hydrological cycle and economics will be helpful.

More information: dr. Xueqin Zhu.

Macro-economic issues

Many environmental problems are global or national problems. Therefore, these problems and the policies that address them have economic repercussions on a national or international scale. Macro-economic issues in environmental economics include:
  • The environmental and economic effects of 'green' taxation
  • The relation between economic growth and environmental degradation (Environmental Kuznets Curve)
  • The relation between economic growth and resource abundance (Resource Curse)
  • The role of innovation in environmental policy
  • Students working on this topic will probably use General Equilibrium models.

For more information on macro-economic issues in environmental policy you can contact prof.dr Ekko C. van Ierland.

Student wanted: Does a green tax reform offer a double dividend?

Policy analysts and politicians have been keenly interested in the possibility that a revenue-neutral green tax reform might offer a double dividend. The idea is that an environmentally oriented tax is introduced and the revenues from this tax are used to cut pre-existing distortionary taxes on labour and therefore reduces the unemployment rate. We are looking for a student with good mathematical skills who is interested in critically evaluating argument in favour and against the double dividend hypothesis.

Management of Marine Resources

The marine environment has long been treated as an infinite resource, but its limits are becoming apparent very rapidly. The impact of overfishing, pollution and natural resource extraction on marine ecosystems all over the world raises economic research questions such as:
  • How should multi-species fisheries be managed?
  • What role could labelling systems play in stimulating the sustainability of fisheries?
  • How can the different functions of marine ecosystems be allocated efficiently?
  • What is the economic value of goods and services of the marine environment?

For more information on the economics of marine resources you can contact dr. Rolf Groeneveld.