As a first step, natural resources have been defined for the LCA context with reference to the overall UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) framework. Second, existing LCIA methods have been reviewed and discussed. The reviewed methods have been evaluated according to the considered type of natural resources and their underlying principles followed (use-to-availability ratios, backup technology approaches, or thermodynamic accounting methods).
There is currently no single LCIA method available that addresses impacts for all natural resource categories, nor do existing methods and models addressing different natural resource categories do so in a consistent way across categories. Exceptions are exergy and solar energy-related methods, which cover the widest range of resource categories. However, these methods do not link exergy consumption to changes in availability or provisioning capacity of a specific natural resource (e.g., mineral, water, land etc.). So far, there is no agreement in the scientific community on the most relevant type of future resource indicators (depletion, increased energy use or cost due to resource extraction, etc.). To address this challenge, a framework based on the concept of stock/fund/flow resources is proposed to identify, across natural resource categories, whether depletion/dissipation (of stocks and funds) or competition (for flows) is the main relevant aspect.
An LCIA method—or a set of methods—that consistently address all natural resource categories is needed in order to avoid burden shifting from the impact associated with one resource to the impact associated with another resource. This paper is an important basis for a step forward in the direction of consistently integrating the various natural resources as an Area of Protection into LCA.