Date: 30 Apr 2009

The contribution of PAS 2050 to the evolution of international greenhouse gas emission standards

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Abstract

Background, aim, and scope

The assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from products (goods and services) is emerging as a high profile application of life cycle assessment (LCA), with an increasing desire from retailers and other supply chain organizations to better understand, and in some cases communicate, the carbon footprint of products. Publicly Available Specification 2050:2008, Specification for the assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of goods and services, addresses the single-impact category of global warming to provide a standardized and simplified implementation of process LCA methods for assessing GHG emissions from products. This paper briefly reviews the development process followed for PAS 2050, before examining the treatment of GHG-specific contribution of PAS 2050 to product carbon footprinting.

Materials and methods

PAS 2050 was jointly sponsored by the Carbon Trust and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and was published by the British Standards Institution on 29 October 2008. An independent steering group oversaw the development of the specification, including the establishment of an expert workgroup program, comprehensive international consultation, and expert input on the requirements of the specification.

Results

The development process for PAS 2050 resulted in a specification that includes specific requirements that limit the interpretation of the underlying LCA approach to product carbon footprinting. These requirements, including goal setting and life cycle inventory assessment, aspects of system boundary identification and temporal aspects of GHG emissions, clarify the approach to be taken by organizations implementing product carbon footprinting, and simplify the application of LCA procedures in relation to product carbon footprinting.

Discussion

Assessment of the emissions arising from the life cycle of products has a clear international component, and delivering consistent results across the supply chain requires the application of consistent methods. There is an emerging recognition that further standardization of methods for product carbon footprinting is needed, and the specific requirements resulting from the PAS 2050 development process make a valuable contribution across a range of GHG assessment issues.

Conclusions

The widespread interest in PAS 2050 from individuals and organizations, together with the development of similar guidance by other organizations, confirmed that there is a need for clarification, certainty, and requirements in the field of product carbon footprint analysis. The use of PAS 2050 to refine, clarify, and simplify existing LCA methods and standards has resulted in specific approaches to key GHG assessment issues being developed; it is important that future standards development work considers the impact of these approaches and their further refinement.

Recommendations and perspectives

It is the consumption of goods and services by individuals around the world that drives global GHG emission, and PAS 2050 is a first attempt to provide integrated, consistent approaches that directly address the role of consumption at the product level in contributing to GHG emissions. Climate science and GHG assessment techniques are both evolving areas and it will be necessary to review the approach taken by PAS 2050 in the future: a formal review process for PAS 2050 will commence towards the end of 2009 and practitioners are encouraged to participate in this review process.

Responsible editor: Matthias Finkbeiner