National inventories of land occupation and transformation flows in the world for land use impact assessment

Maria Faragò, Lorenzo Benini, Serenella Sala, Michela Secchi, Alexis Laurent*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Purpose: Land use can cause significant impacts on ecosystems and natural resources. To assess these impacts using life cycle assessment (LCA) and ensure adequate decision-making, comprehensive national inventories of land occupation and transformation flows are required. Here, we aim at developing globally differentiated inventories of land use flows that can be used for primary use in life cycle impact assessment or national land planning. Methods: Using publicly available data and inventory techniques, national inventories for several land use classes were developed. All land use classes were covered with the highest retrievable level of disaggregation within urban, forestry, agriculture and other land use classes, thus differentiating 21 land use classes. For illustrating the application of this newly developed inventory, two different application settings relevant to life cycle impact assessment were considered: the calculation of global normalisation references for 11 land use impact indicators related to soil quality assessment (adopting the methods recommended by the EU Commission) and the determination of generic globally applicable characterisation factors (CFs) resulting from aggregation of country-level CFs for situations for use when land use location is unknown. Results and discussion: We built national inventories of 21 land occupation and 17 land transformation flows for 225 countries in the world for the reference year 2010. Cross-comparisons with existing inventories of narrower scopes attested its consistency. Detailed analyses of the calculated global normalisation references for the 11 land use impact categories showed different patterns across the land use impact indicators for each country, thus raising attention on key land use impacts specific to each country. Furthermore, the upscaling of country-level CFs to global generic CFs using the land use inventory revealed discrepancies with other alternative approaches using land use data at different resolutions. Conclusions: In this study, we made a first attempt at developing national inventories of land use flows with sufficient disaggregation level to enable the calculation of normalisation references and differentiated impacts. However, the findings also demonstrated the need to refine the consistency of the inventory, particularly in the combination of land cover and land use data, which should be harmonised in future studies, and to expand it with differentiated coverage of more land use flows relevant to impact assessment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1333-1347
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • LCA
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Nomaolisation reference
  • Soil quality indicator
  • Spatial differentiation
  • Urban area

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