Challenges in implementing a Planetary Boundaries based Life-Cycle Impact Assessment methodology

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    Abstract

    Impacts on the environment from human activities are now threatening to exceed thresholds for central Earth System processes, potentially moving the Earth System out of the Holocene state. To avoid such consequences, the concept of Planetary Boundaries was defined in 2009, and updated in 2015, for a number of processes which are essential for maintaining the Earth System in its present state. Life-Cycle Assessment was identified as a suitable tool for linking human activities to the Planetary Boundaries. However, to facilitate proper use of Life-Cycle Assessment for non-global environmental management based on the Planetary Boundaries, there is a need for linking non-global activities to impacts on a planetary level. In this study, challenges related to development and operationalization of a Planetary Boundary based Life-Cycle Impact Assessment method are identified and the feasibility of resolving the challenges and developing such methodology is discussed. The challenges are related to technical issues, i.e., modelling and including the Earth System processes and their control variables as impact categories in Life-Cycle Impact Assessment and to theoretical considerations with respect to the interpretation and use of Life-Cycle Assessment results in accordance with the Planetary Boundary framework. The identified challenges require additional research before a Planetary Boundaries based Life-Cycle Impact Assessment method can be developed. Research on modelling the impacts on Earth System processes and on allocation of and entitlement to the ‘safe operating space’ appear to be most urgent for operationalizing a Planetary Boundaries based Life-Cycle Impact Assessment method. The results of a Planetary Boundaries based Life-Cycle Impact Assessment would be highly relevant and could provide novel insights on the environmental performance and sustainability of products and systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
    Volume139
    Pages (from-to)450-459
    ISSN0959-6526
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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