Towards inclusion of Biodiversity in Life Cycle Assessment
Biodiversity- crucial for ecosystem health and its products and services – is being lost at an alarming rate. While it is clear that human consumption is the main driving force of the considerable losses, conversion of natural habitats for production is continuing and the subsequent intensification of those systems is likely to cause even further biodiversity decay. Insights in consumption-based biodiversity loss, or biodiversity footprints, offer starting points for policy to reduce global biodiversity loss. To assess environmental performances of production systems, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can be applied. This is an internationally recognised methodology to map the environmental impact of a product, chain or activity from the beginning to the end of the life cycle. While certain impacts, such as those of climate change, are readily incorporated into standardised LCAs, methodologies for impacts on biodiversity are still being developed.
This thesis aims at contributing to improved methodology for assessing the impacts of land use and land use change on terrestrial biodiversity in LCA. Particular attention is given to what is needed to enable more societally and ecologically relevant assessments of impacts on biodiversity and how biodiversity indicators can be developed that quantify impacts on biodiversity accordingly. The results show that in current life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) models, the use of so-called baseline references dominates, implicitly striving for ‘naturalness’ and how this contrasts the aim of biodiversity conservation frameworks. Furthermore, it is discussed how inclusion of genetic attributes could increase the relevance of current assessments and it is tested how LCIA modelers could make use of genetic data generated by metabarcoding approaches of environmental DNA.
Recommendations given include the development of reference situations in LCIA models based on biodiversity targets aligned with society’s conservation frameworks. This means that impact on biodiversity will be defined as a distance to a target measure, rather than impact on the ‘natural’. In addition, next steps are identified that are needed to include genetic biodiversity metrics in LCIA models.
Life Cycle Assessment