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Key issues and options in accounting for carbon sequestration and temporary storage in life cycle assessment and carbon footprinting

  • Miguel BrandãoEmail author
  • Annie Levasseur
  • Miko U. F. Kirschbaum
  • Bo P. Weidema
  • Annette L. Cowie
  • Susanne Vedel Jørgensen
  • Michael Z. Hauschild
  • David W. Pennington
  • Kirana Chomkhamsri
CARBON FOOTPRINTING

Abstract

Purpose

Biological sequestration can increase the carbon stocks of non-atmospheric reservoirs (e.g. land and land-based products). Since this contained carbon is sequestered from, and retained outside, the atmosphere for a period of time, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is temporarily reduced and some radiative forcing is avoided. Carbon removal from the atmosphere and storage in the biosphere or anthroposphere, therefore, has the potential to mitigate climate change, even if the carbon storage and associated benefits might be temporary. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and carbon footprinting (CF) are increasingly popular tools for the environmental assessment of products, that take into account their entire life cycle. There have been significant efforts to develop robust methods to account for the benefits, if any, of sequestration and temporary storage and release of biogenic carbon. However, there is still no overall consensus on the most appropriate ways of considering and quantifying it.

Method

This paper reviews and discusses six available methods for accounting for the potential climate impacts of carbon sequestration and temporary storage or release of biogenic carbon in LCA and CF. Several viewpoints and approaches are presented in a structured manner to help decision-makers in their selection of an option from competing approaches for dealing with timing issues, including delayed emissions of fossil carbon.

Results

Key issues identified are that the benefits of temporary carbon removals depend on the time horizon adopted when assessing climate change impacts and are therefore not purely science-based but include value judgments. We therefore did not recommend a preferred option out of the six alternatives presented here.

Conclusions

Further work is needed to combine aspects of scientific and socio-economic understanding with value judgements and ethical considerations.

Keywords

Climate change Carbon footprint Carbon cycle Carbon stocks Carbon sinks Global warming potential (GWP) Time preferences 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the inputs of every participant of the workshop, particularly those who presented their work in addition to some of the authors: Viorel Blujdea, Francesco Cherubini, Roland Clift, Laura Draucker, Annemarie Kerkhof, Gregg Marland, Glen Peters, Frank Werner, Marc-Andree Wolf, Katherina Wührl, and Giuliana Zanchi.

Disclaimer

Some of the views and opinions raised in this workshop and presented in this summary paper are not necessarily shared by all of the authors nor by their associated organisations.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miguel Brandão
    • 1
    Email author
  • Annie Levasseur
    • 2
  • Miko U. F. Kirschbaum
    • 3
  • Bo P. Weidema
    • 4
  • Annette L. Cowie
    • 5
    • 6
  • Susanne Vedel Jørgensen
    • 7
    • 8
  • Michael Z. Hauschild
    • 7
  • David W. Pennington
    • 1
  • Kirana Chomkhamsri
    • 1
  1. 1.European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and SustainabilitySustainability Assessment UnitIspraItaly
  2. 2.CIRAIG, Department of Chemical EngineeringÉcole Polytechnique de MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Landcare ResearchLincolnNew Zealand
  4. 4.University of AalborgAalborgDenmark
  5. 5.Rural Climate SolutionsUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  6. 6.NSW Department of Primary IndustriesArmidaleAustralia
  7. 7.Department of Management EngineeringDanish Technical University (DTU)LyngbyDenmark
  8. 8.Novozymes A/SBagsværdDenmark

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