Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Davide Geneletti
Chapter 7: Addressing biodiversity and ecosystem services in Life Cycle Assessment
The aim of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology is to provide a quantification of the potential environmental impacts of goods and processes for the cycle of production from ‘cradle to grave’. Eventually impacts may be translated into damage to three defined Areas of Protection (AoP): human health, natural environment and resources. Ecosystem services and biodiversity loss have been proposed as suitable endpoints to quantify damage in the AoP of natural environment. Both are complex subjects that are difficult to measure with simple indicators due to the different nature of damages involved as well as region specificities. The comprehensive scope of LCA requires a simplification of such complex mechanisms in order to evaluate impacts occurring all along the life cycle in diverse locations, hindering the definition of an ideal indicator. Significant data requirements with global coverage and yet allowing for spatial dependency results in substantive challenges for the scientific community. In the first section of this chapter, after a brief introduction to LCA, the environmental mechanisms affecting biodiversity and ecosystems services and their quantitative link to damages to the natural environment are presented. The second section introduces the state of the art of the different impact indicator proposals addressing biodiversity loss and change in ecosystem services in the frame of LCA. The review focuses on the effects of land use and land use change as one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss. The last section addresses the main challenges in the quest for good and harmonized indicators, such as data availability; selection of a suitable reference state; spatial differentiation; different biodiversity levels of organization (genes, species and ecosystems); biogeographical area coverage; and scales of assessment and non-linear damage relationships.
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