New Publication: Challenges and opportunities towards improved application of the planetary boundary for land-system change in life cycle assessment of products

Life cycle assessment (LCA) can be used to translate the planetary boundaries (PB) concept to the scale of decisions related to products and services. Existing PB-based LCA methods convert quantified resource use and emissions to changes in the values of PB control variables. However, the control variable for the Land-system change PB, “area of forested land remaining”, is not suitable for use in LCA, since it is expressed at the beginning of a cause/effect chain and only covers forest biomes. At the same time, LCA approaches for modelling biogeophysical effects of land uses and land use changes are immature and interactions with other types of environmental effects are lagging. Here, we propose how the handling of Land-system change in PB-based LCA can be improved. First, we introduce two control variables for application in LCA; surface air temperature and precipitation, and we identify corresponding threshold values associated with state shifts in four comprehensive biome categories. Second, we propose simplified approaches suitable for modelling the effect of land uses and land use changes in product life cycles on the values of these two control variables. Third, we propose how to quantify interactions between the PBs for Land-system change, Climate change and Freshwater use for a PB-based LCA method. Finally, we identify several research needs to facilitate full implementation of our proposed approach.

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