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National environmental footprints and planetary boundaries: from methodology to policy implementation 59th LCA forum, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, June 12, 2015

Frischknecht, Rolf, Stolz, Philippe, Tschümperlin, Laura
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2016 v.21 no.4 pp. 601-605
European Union, biodiversity, business enterprises, carrying capacity, climate change, ecological footprint, issues and policy, land use change, life cycle impact assessment, monitoring, nitrogen, politics, pollution
The 59th LCA forum was held on 12 June, 2015 to discuss the situation with regard to national environmental footprints and their relation to planetary boundaries and to the global carrying capacity. This conference report presents the highlights of the LCA forum. Several approaches of how to quantify a safe operating space of the Earth were presented, such as the planetary boundary concept published by Rockström et al. (Nature 462:472–475, 2009) and the ecological footprint (Bastianoni et al. 2013). Several presenters showed how they transformed environmental planetary boundaries to national and per capita allowances. In a research project funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment safe and unsafe areas were determined by combining the level of overshoot, the level of confidence in the information and the trend in the environmental load. The areas of climate change, biodiversity losses and nitrogen losses show a large overshoot on a global level but also from the point of view of Swiss consumption. Other organizations use the planetary boundary concept to identify companies which qualify for environmentally sustainable funds. Finally, life cycle impact assessment methods are being developed using the planetary boundary concept. The weighting step is based on the level of overshoot, which is close to “distance to target” approaches. It was discussed that the nine planetary boundaries face some consistency and operationalisation problems. For instance, land use changes cause biodiversity losses, which is a planetary boundary parameter in its own. Chemical pollution on the other hand is a general topic, for which a quantification approach has to be developed first (load as well as its planetary boundary). The discussion forum showed that individual countries and political entities like the European Union start monitoring their consumption based environmental footprint. Within this context, approaches and concepts are needed to define the environmentally safe operating space. The LCA forum showed that there is still basic research needed to reliably and consistently quantify relevant planetary boundaries (avoiding overlapping indicators) and to transfer these boundaries to per capita allowances.