Bridging the gap between impact assessment methods and climate science
Review article, 2016

Life-cycle assessment and carbon footprint studies are widely used by decision makers to identify climate change mitigation options and priorities at corporate and public levels. These applications, including the vast majority of emission accounting schemes and policy frameworks, traditionally quantify climate impacts of human activities by aggregating greenhouse gas emissions into the so-called CO2-equivalents using the 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) as the default emission metric. The practice was established in the early nineties and has not been coupled with progresses in climate science, other than simply updating numerical values for GWP100. We review the key insights from the literature surrounding climate science that are at odds with existing climate impact methods and we identify possible improvement options. Issues with the existing approach lie in the use of a single metric that cannot represent the climate system complexity for all possible research and policy contexts, and in the default exclusion of near-term climate forcers such as aerosols or ozone precursors and changes in the Earth's energy balance associated with land cover changes. Failure to acknowledge the complexity of climate change drivers and the spatial and temporal heterogeneities of their climate system responses can lead to the deployment of suboptimal, and potentially even counterproductive, mitigation strategies. We argue for an active consideration of these aspects to bridge the gap between climate impact methods used in environmental impact analysis and climate science.

Emission metrics

Climate change

Global warming potential (GWP)

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

Author

F. Cherubini

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

J. Fuglestvedt

Cicero Senter for klimaforskning

T. Gasser

Universite de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

Centre International de Recherche sur l'Environnement et le Developpement

A. Reisinger

New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre

O. Cavalett

Laboratorio Nacional de Biociencias

M. A. J. Huijbregts

Radboud University

Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency

Daniel Johansson

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

S. V. Jorgensen

ALECTIA AS

M. Raugei

Oxford Brookes University

G. Schivley

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)

A. H. Stromman

Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

K. Tanaka

National Institute for Environmental Studies of Japan

A. Levasseur

École Polytechnique de Montréal

Environmental Science and Policy

1462-9011 (ISSN)

Vol. 64 129-140

Subject Categories

Climate Research

DOI

10.1016/j.envsci.2016.06.019

More information

Latest update

4/28/2021