The life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) guidance flagship project of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Life Cycle Initiative aims at providing global guidance and building scientific consensus on environmental LCIA indicators. This paper presents the progress made since 2013, preliminary results obtained for each impact category and the description of a rice life cycle assessment (LCA) case study designed to test and compare LCIA indicators.
The effort has been focused in a first stage on impacts of global warming, fine particulate matter emissions, water use and land use, plus cross-cutting issues and LCA-based footprints. The paper reports the process and progress and specific results obtained in the different task forces (TFs). Additionally, a rice LCA case study common to all TF has been developed. Three distinctly different scenarios of producing and cooking rice have been defined and underlined with life cycle inventory data. These LCAs help testing impact category indicators which are being developed and/or selected in the harmonisation process. The rice LCA case study further helps to ensure the practicality of the finally recommended impact category indicators.
Results and discussion
The global warming TF concludes that analysts should explore the sensitivity of LCA results to metrics other than GWP. The particulate matter TF attained initial guidance of how to include health effects from PM2.5 exposures consistently into LCIA. The biodiversity impacts of land use TF suggests to consider complementary metrics besides species richness for assessing biodiversity loss. The water use TF is evaluating two stress-based metrics, AWaRe and an alternative indicator by a stakeholder consultation. The cross-cutting issues TF agreed upon maintaining disability-adjusted life years (DALY) as endpoint unit for the safeguard subject “human health”. The footprint TF defined main attributes that should characterise all footprint indicators. “Rice cultivation” and “cooking” stages of the rice LCA case study contribute most to the environmental impacts assessed.
The results of the TF will be documented in white papers and some published in scientific journals. These white papers represent the input for the Pellston workshop™, taking place in Valencia, Spain, from 24 to 29 January 2016, where best practice, harmonised LCIA indicators and an update on the general LCIA framework will be discussed and agreed on. With the diversity in results and the multi-tier supply chains, the rice LCA case study is well suited to test candidate recommended indicators and to ensure their applicability in common LCA case studies.
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A Pellston workshop™ is an intensive, week-long event format developed by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) in the 1970s. Each of the more than 50 such workshops held to date has adhered to the same structure, format and ground rules. Among these are the requirements that each of the invited participants agrees to engage as an individual expert, not as a representative of an organization, participate for the entire duration, contribute to a major publication derived from the effort and respect the consensus building process employed during the conduct of the workshop. SETAC Pellston workshops™ have produced seminal publications across a variety of environmental science topics and issues, including five such publications on LCA.
The inclusion of GWP values for NTCFs in life cycle impact assessment will substantially increase the uncertainty associated to GWP values. The global warming impact of non-fully mixed pollutants with short lifetime depends on local short-term processes that are very complex to model and vary depending on the location of emission. The IPCC 5th assessment report does not provide consolidated GWP or GTP values for these NTCFs but compiles the findings of various scientific research and publications (see (IPCC 2013, Section 188.8.131.52 and Tab. 8.A.3 to Tab. 8.A.6)).
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The authors acknowledge the contributions from the participants of the Basel, Barcelona and Adelaide workshops and of the different TFs, as well as the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative for funding this activity.
The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities or concerning delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Moreover, the views expressed do not necessarily represent the decision or the stated policy of the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, nor does citing of trade names or commercial processes constitute endorsement.
Responsible editor: Mary Ann Curran
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Frischknecht, R., Fantke, P., Tschümperlin, L. et al. Global guidance on environmental life cycle impact assessment indicators: progress and case study. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 429–442 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-015-1025-1