Benefits and Limitations of Real Options Analysis for the Practice of River Flood Risk Management

Jarl M. Kind*, Jorn H. Baayen, W. J.Wouter Botzen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Decisions on long-lived flood risk management (FRM) investments are complex because the future is uncertain. Flexibility and robustness can be used to deal with future uncertainty. Real options analysis (ROA) provides a welfare-economics framework to design and evaluate robust and flexible FRM strategies under risk or uncertainty. Although its potential benefits are large, ROA is hardly used in todays' FRM practice. In this paper, we investigate benefits and limitations of a ROA, by applying it to a realistic FRM case study for an entire river branch. We illustrate how ROA identifies optimal short-term investments and values future options. We develop robust dike investment strategies and value the flexibility offered by additional room for the river measures. We benchmark the results of ROA against those of a standard cost-benefit analysis and show ROA's potential policy implications. The ROA for a realistic case requires a high level of geographical detail, a large ensemble of scenarios, and the inclusion of stakeholders' preferences. We found several limitations of applying the ROA. It is complex. In particular, relevant sources of uncertainty need to be recognized, quantified, integrated, and discretized in scenarios, requiring subjective choices and expert judgment. Decision trees have to be generated and stakeholders' preferences have to be translated into decision rules. On basis of this study, we give general recommendations to use high discharge scenarios for the design of measures with high fixed costs and few alternatives. Lower scenarios may be used when alternatives offer future flexibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3018-3036
Number of pages19
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
Early online date24 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • adaptation
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • Delta Programme
  • flood risk management
  • real options analysis
  • room for the river

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