DEFINITION OF BEST INDICATORS FOR LAND USE IMPACTS IN LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT
12 June 2006 - 13 June 2006
The invited experts received a pre-workshop document to prepare their presentations, including the framework for land use impact assessment (Milà i Canals et al. 2006), as well as the abstracts of all the presentations and some guidance on selecting the impact indicators best suited for LCA.
The workshop focused on the general discussion of whether LCA is suited to include land use impacts, as well as on recommendations for biodiversity and soil quality indicators.
All the workshop documents (including the workshop proceedings, minutes of the discussions, individual presentations and abstracts) can be downloaded from this page, and a synthesis paper has been published in the International Journal of LCA. Below you can find a brief description of all the presentations.
Back (L-R): James Schepers, Christian Bauer, Llorenç Milà i Canals, John Gardner, Miguel Brandão, Yvonne Hansen, Ruedi Müller-Wenk, Christel Cederberg
Middle (L-R): Alexandre Rosado, Pascal Lesage, Jesper Kløverpris, Roland Clift, Constantinos Kosmas, Lauren Basson, Alejandro Pablo Arena
Front (L-R): Rita Schenck, Bernt Rydgren, Jim Lynch, Hayo van der Werf, Elena Vanguelova, Wanja Margaret Kinuthia, Sonia Valdivia, Jo Treweek, Ottar Michelsen, Joan Romanyà
General Framework (10.30-12.00 Monday 12th June)
Llorenç Milà i Canals gave a brief overview of the key elements that need to be considered in any method for including land use impacts in LCA, according to the framework defined within the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative.
Milà i Canals et al. abstract
Milà i Canals et al. presentation
Session 1: Recommendations for Soil Quality indicators (Monday 12 June, 13.00-15.00)
Joan Romanyà highlighted soils’ multi-functionality (food security; natural environmental quality; human health and welfare); different degradation processes affect different functions. Soils are resilient, and the concept of resilience should be addressed when measuring soil quality: by defining critical thresholds for the different functions, one could measure the distance of the current quality to the threshold, and from here define the major threat for a specific soil.
Romanyà et al. abstract
Constantinos Kosmas showed how land productivity declines with the different degradation processes considered. Different degradation processes and indicators need to be considered for different (archetypical) land use types.
Alexandre Rosado presented a molecular indicator for microbial soil biodiversity, which may be normalised to the local natural systems in order to derive a magnitude of the impact. Microbial diversity, together with Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), is the parameter that changes quicker in response to land management, and can therefore be a good indicator. However, there is currently a big knowledge gap in this sector, and measurements are required to work with this indicator anywhere in the world.
Rosado et al. abstract
Session 2: Recommendations for Biodiversity indicators (Monday 12 June, 15.30 – 17.30)
Jo Treweek illustrated the problems in the definitions of biodiversity, and showed the many possibilities existing when defining indicators from different perspectives: value driven vs. science based. One general point was that absolute counts of species seem to be meaningless, due to the inherent changes in different regions and even from season to season (inherent spatial and temporal variation of species numbers); therefore working with relative values seems to be more fruitful. Another important point is that land use change (transformation) seems to be the top factor explaining the decline of biodiversity. Besides, reversing the trend is not easy as the process of biodiversity build-up is hysteretic, and some biodiversity loses are irreversible, no matter how you manage land. Another common topic to break is that more biodiversity is not necessarily better, as more invasive species are not desired, whereas ecosystems naturally low in species numbers need to be protected.
Treweek et al. abstract
Wanja Kinuthia highlighted the need for capacity building in Africa, and focused on key indicator species that may provide a good indication of the health of an ecosystem while facilitating the field work. For example, pollinators are keystone species; aboveground invertebrates are well correlated with soil micro organisms, which are more difficult to assess. The link between biodiversity and human welfare (food security) needs to be understood to increase acceptability of LCA and enhance protection of biodiversity.
Kinuthia et al. abstract
Ottar Michelsen discussed on alternative methods to using direct measures of vascular plants as indicator for biodiversity. Instead of trying to assess the quality, he suggests focusing on the factors that affect quality stress vs. state indicators: measures of ecosystem scarcity and vulnerability.
Bernt Rydgren presented the Biotope method for including impacts on biodiversity in LCA, which is based on the differences between ‘before’ and ‘after’ a land use for electricity generation. The method assumes that changes in the size of habitats (biotopes) reflect changes in biodiversity. One main point stressed by Rydgren is that if the location of the impact is not known, then it is better not to pretend to assess impacts on biodiversity.
Rita Schenck highlighted that loss of biodiversity is the biggest impact of human activities, particularly for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and possibly urbanisation. As conclusions from previous workshops, she reported that for biodiversity the intensity of use is not that important, when compared to the amount of land that is not used (i.e. fraction of ‘set-aside’ land). The (satellite) information available on land cover is enough. An important point for biodiversity is that the scale of impact is very relevant and this is something that might not be captured with LCA.
Snapshot presentations on practical implementations in LCA studies (Monday 12 June, 17.30 – 18.00)
Christel Cederberg showed the effects of different intensities of production (organic vs. conventional) on the amount of land used for milk production. She stressed the importance of bio-geographical representation even within a country level.
Yvonne Hansen presented an approach to assess the impacts of solid waste management, based on estimating the ‘impacted land footprint’ where subsurface concentrations of salts and metals prevent normal use of land.
Hansen et al. abstract
Christian Bauer shared his experiences on using GIS data in LCA in the mining sector, although he suggested that the level of detail reached for the primary production stage could not be achieved in all the life cycle stages.
Pablo Arena focused on the development of desertification indicators for land use in Argentina, and explained the current work to adapt them to LCA requirements.
Arena et al. abstract
Pascal Lesage argued that the common assumption that competition for land is not of environmental concern because it happens in the economic system is wrong; competition for land has clear environmental consequences (also off-site) and therefore should be included in LCA, at least in consequential LCA.
Lesage et al. abstract
Jesper Kløverpris developed the issue of how to assess the affected land resulting from increased demand of agricultural products, which may be divided in three typical situations: intensification on existing fields; expansion into natural areas; displacement of other crops. Identifying the affected land is a pre-requisite for assessing the impacts associated to land use in consequential LCA.
On the second day of the workshop the participants were divided into sub-groups for focussed discussions on specific topics
The presentations stimulated a few lively discussions over lunch
The participants get to know each other a bit better over drinks at the workshop dinner
The workshop proceedings will be available in October 2006, and a synthesis paper including the main conclusions of the workshop is available from the International Journal of LCA. You can also download the Workshop minutes.
The workshop was co-sponsored by the University of Surrey's Institute of Advanced Studies, UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative and The International Council on Mining and Metals, ICMM. The organisers are very grateful to all the participants who provided their time and knowledge, and particularly to those who helped in coordinating and reporting the groups discussions: Prof Ruedi Muller-Wenk, Mr John Gardner, Dr Bernt Rydgren and Dr Christian Bauer.
Dr Llorenç Milà i Canals