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Enhancing life cycle impact assessment from climate science: Review of recent findings and recommendations for application to LCA

Annie Levasseur, Otávio Cavalett, Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Thomas Gasser, Daniel J.A. Johansson, Susanne V. Jørgensen, Marco Raugei, Andy Reisinger, Greg Schivley, Anders Hammer Strømman, Katsumasa Tanaka, Francesco Cherubini

Since the Global Warming Potential (GWP) was first presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) First Assessment Report, the metric has been scrutinized and alternative metrics have been suggested. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report gives a scientific assessment of the main recent findings from climate metrics research and provides the most up-to-date values for a subset of metrics and time horizons. The objectives of this paper are to perform a systematic review of available midpoint metrics (i.e. using an indicator situated in the middle of the cause-effect chain from emissions to climate change) for well-mixed greenhouse gases and near-term climate forcers based on the current literature, to provide recommendations for the development and use of characterization factors for climate change in life cycle assessment (LCA), and to identify research needs. This work is part of the ‘Global Guidance on Environmental Life Cycle Impact Assessment’ project held by the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative and is intended to support a consensus finding workshop. In an LCA context, it can make sense to use several complementary metrics that serve different purposes, and from there get an understanding about the robustness of the LCA study to different perspectives and metrics. We propose a step-by-step approach to test the sensitivity of LCA results to different modelling choices and provide recommendations for specific issues such as the consideration of climate-carbon feedbacks and the inclusion of pollutants with cooling effects (negative metric values).

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