Conceptualising attributional LCA is necessary for resolving methodological issues such as the appropriate form of land use baseline

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Abstract

Purpose
The purpose of this commentary is to further an on-going debate concerning the appropriate form of land use baseline for attributional LCA, and to respond to a number of arguments advanced by Soimakallio et al. (2016). The commentary also seeks to clarify the conceptual nature of attributional LCA.
Methods
The overarching approach for resolving the question of the appropriate form of land use baseline for attributional LCA is to clarify what attributional LCA is seeking to represent, i.e. methodological questions can only be resolved if it is clear what the method is seeking to do. An illustrative example is used to explore the different results produced by ‘natural regeneration’ and ‘natural’ baselines.
Results and discussion
It is proposed that attributional LCA should be conceptualised as an inventory of anthropogenic impacts, conceptually akin to other forms of environmental inventory, such as national GHG inventories. The use of ‘natural regeneration’ baselines is not consistent with this conceptualisation of attributional LCA, and such baselines necessitate further ad hoc or arbitrary adjustments, such as arbitrary temporal windows, or the inconsistent treatment of ‘natural’ emissions.
Conclusions
The use of ‘natural regeneration’ baselines may be motivated by the impulse to make attributional LCA both an inventory-type method and an assessment of system-wide change. Pulling attributional LCA in two different directions at once results in a conceptually and methodologically incoherent method. The solution is to recognise attributional LCA as an inventory-type method, which therefore has distinct but complementary uses to consequential LCA, which is an assessment of system-wide change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Early online date15 Jun 2016
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2016

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