Can comprehensive climate impact assessment of terrestrial ecosystems be included in Life Cycle Assessment to support policy decisions?

Monday, 15 December 2014: 4:10 PM
Ryan M. Bright, Francesco Cherubini and Anders Hammer Strømman, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Energy and Process Engineering, Industrial Ecology Program, Trondheim, Norway
Decisions resulting in land use change (LUC) or land management change (LMC) rarely consider the changes to surface biophysical properties that lead to immediate land-atmosphere feedbacks and subsequent local- to regional-scale climate changes. This is likely because the sign and magnitude of the various feedback mechanisms depend largely on a multitude of highly site-specific meteorological, eco-physiological, structural, and topographic factors, making them difficult to quantify in the absence of sophisticated models with high spatial and temporal resolution.

In a world increasingly dependent on biomass (and thus land) resources for energy and materials, it is unacceptable to continue ignoring important biogeophysical factors linked to land use activities in climate impact assessment studies. Although a number of useful land-atmosphere impact assessment methodologies and metrics have been proposed in recent years, they are rarely applied in the decision making process. Over the last 10-15 years, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has emerged as a prominent decision-support tool that relies on well-established IPCC climate metrics, yet land-atmosphere climate metrics are rarely applied.

Here, we present a review of the literature enveloping methods and metrics for quantifying or characterizing climate change impacts in terrestrial ecosystems. We highlight their merits and discuss practical limitations with respect to their integration into the LCA framework. We conclude by proposing some solutions for overcoming the integration barrier and suggest some practical ways forward for both climate modelers/metric developers and LCA practitioners.