Key Elements in a Framework for Land Use Impact Assessment Within LCA (11 pp)
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- Milà i Canals, L., Bauer, C., Depestele, J. et al. Int J Life Cycle Assessment (2007) 12: 5. doi:10.1065/lca2006.05.250
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Background, Aim and Scope
Land use by agriculture, forestry, mining, house-building or industry leads to substantial impacts, particularly on biodiversity and on soil quality as a supplier of life support functions. Unfortunately there is no widely accepted assessment method so far for land use impacts. This paper presents an attempt, within the UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, to provide a framework for the Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) of land use. Materials and Methods: This framework builds from previous documents, particularly the SETAC book on LCIA (Lindeijer et al. 2002), developing essential issues such as the reference for occupation impacts; the impact pathways to be included in the analysis; the units of measure in the impact mechanism (land use interventions to impacts); the ways to deal with impacts in the future; and bio-geographical differentiation. Results: The paper describes the selected impact pathways, linking the land use elementary flows (occupation; transformation) and parameters (intensity) registered in the inventory (LCI) to the midpoint impact indicators and to the relevant damage categories (natural environment and natural resources). An impact occurs when the land properties are modified (transformation) and also when the current man-made properties are maintained (occupation). Discussion: The size of impact is the difference between the effect on land quality from the studied case of land use and a suitable reference land use on the same area (dynamic reference situation). The impact depends not only on the type of land use (including coverage and intensity) but is also heavily influenced by the bio-geographical conditions of the area. The time lag between the land use intervention and the impact may be large; thus land use impacts should be calculated over a reasonable time period after the actual land use finishes, at least until a new steady state in land quality is reached. Conclusions: Guidance is provided on the definition of the dynamic reference situation and on methods and time frame to assess the impacts occurring after the actual land use. Including the occupation impacts acknowledges that humans are not the sole users of land. Recommendations and Perspectives: The main damages affected by land use that should be considered by any method to assess land use impacts in LCIA are: biodiversity (existence value); biotic production potential (including soil fertility and use value of biodiversity); ecological soil quality (including life support functions of soil other than biotic production potential). Bio-geographical differentiation is required for land use impacts, because the same intervention may have different consequences depending on the sensitivity and inherent land quality of the environment where it occurs. For the moment, an indication of how such task could be done and likely bio-geographical parameters to be considered are suggested. The recommendation of indicators for the suggested impact categories is a matter of future research.