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A life cycle assessment approach to quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change for beef production in eastern Australia

Henry, Beverley K., Butler, D., Wiedemann, S. G.
The Rangeland journal 2015 v.37 no.3 pp. 273-283
allometry, beef, biomass, body weight, carbon sinks, data collection, deforestation, equations, forests, global warming, grazing lands, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, indigenous species, land use change, life cycle assessment, methane, regrowth, remote sensing, soil, uncertainty, woodlands, New South Wales, Queensland
In life cycle assessment studies, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from direct land-use change have been estimated to make a significant contribution to the global warming potential of agricultural products. However, these estimates have a high uncertainty due to the complexity of data requirements and difficulty in attribution of land-use change. This paper presents estimates of GHG emissions from direct land-use change from native woodland to grazing land for two beef production regions in eastern Australia, which were the subject of a multi-impact life cycle assessment study for premium beef production. Spatially- and temporally consistent datasets were derived for areas of forest cover and biomass carbon stocks using published remotely sensed tree-cover data and regionally applicable allometric equations consistent with Australia’s national GHG inventory report. Standard life cycle assessment methodology was used to estimate GHG emissions and removals from direct land-use change attributed to beef production. For the northern-central New South Wales region of Australia estimates ranged from a net emission of 0.03 t CO2-e ha-1 year-1 to net removal of 0.12 t CO2-e ha-1 year-1 using low and high scenarios, respectively, for sequestration in regrowing forests. For the same period (1990–2010), the study region in southern-central Queensland was estimated to have net emissions from land-use change in the range of 0.45–0.25 t CO2-e ha-1 year-1. The difference between regions reflects continuation of higher rates of deforestation in Queensland until strict regulation in 2006 whereas native vegetation protection laws were introduced earlier in New South Wales. On the basis of liveweight produced at the farm-gate, emissions from direct land-use change for 1990–2010 were comparable in magnitude to those from other on-farm sources, which were dominated by enteric methane. However, calculation of land-use change impacts for the Queensland region for a period starting 2006, gave a range from net emissions of 0.11 t CO2-e ha-1 year-1 to net removals of 0.07 t CO2-e ha-1 year-1. This study demonstrated a method for deriving spatially- and temporally consistent datasets to improve estimates for direct land-use change impacts in life cycle assessment. It identified areas of uncertainty, including rates of sequestration in woody regrowth and impacts of land-use change on soil carbon stocks in grazed woodlands, but also showed the potential for direct land-use change to represent a net sink for GHG.