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A Life-Cycle Approach to Characterising Environmental and Economic Impacts of Multifunctional Land-Use Systems: An Integrated Assessment in the UK

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  • Miguel Brandão

    ()
    (Sustainability Assessment Unit, Institute of Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Via E. Fermi 2749, I-21027 Ispra (VA), Italy
    Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK)

  • Roland Clift

    ()
    (Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK)

  • Llorenç Milà i Canals

    ()
    (SEAC, Unilever R&D Colworth Park, Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, MK44 1LQ, UK)

  • Lauren Basson

    ()
    (Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK)

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    Abstract

    An integrated environmental and economic assessment of land use for food, energy and timber in the UK has been performed using environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and economic Life Cycle Costing (LCC), to explore complementary sustainability aspects of alternative land uses. The environmental assessment includes impacts on climate change, ecosystem services and biodiversity, all of which include soil carbon emissions. The systems explored include all processes from cradle to farm ‘gate’. The crops assessed were wheat and oilseed rape (under both organic and conventional farming systems), Scots Pine, and willow and Miscanthus . Food crops, particularly conventional food crops, are shown to have the highest climate-changing emissions per ha, whereas energy and forestry crops show negative net emissions. To a lesser extent, the same situation applies to impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity, with carbon storage in biomass playing a larger role than carbon in soils. The energy and forestry crops in this study show an overall beneficial environmental impact, in particular due to soil carbon sequestration, making these land uses the lowest contributors to climate change. Combining this with the non-renewable CO 2 emissions displaced will mean that energy crops have an even lower impact. Economically, conventional food crops present the highest costs per ha, followed by organic food crops, energy and forestry crops. Integrating the results from LCA and LCC shows that the climate impacts per monetary unit of all land uses are dominated by soil management and, in the case of food production, also by fertilisation. Taxes or incentives such as “carbon charging” will encourage changes in practice in these areas to improve the sustainability of land management, mainly by building up Soil Organic Carbon (SOC).

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by MDPI, Open Access Journal in its journal Sustainability.

    Volume (Year): 2 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 12 (December)
    Pages: 3747-3776

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    Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:2:y:2010:i:12:p:3747-3776:d:10597

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    Web page: http://www.mdpi.com/

    Related research

    Keywords: life cycle assessment (LCA); life cycle costing (LCC); land use; agriculture; silviculture; energy Crops; bioenergy;

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    1. Mitchell, Donald, 2008. "A note on rising food prices," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4682, The World Bank.
    2. Searchinger, Timothy & Heimlich, Ralph & Houghton, R. A. & Dong, Fengxia & Elobeid, Amani & Fabiosa, Jacinto F. & Tokgoz, Simla & Hayes, Dermot J. & Yu, Hun-Hsiang, 2008. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change," Staff General Research Papers 12881, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    3. Fearnside, Philip M., 2002. "Time preference in global warming calculations: a proposal for a unified index," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 21-31, April.
    4. Philip Fearnside & Daniel Lashof & Pedro Moura-Costa, 2000. "Accounting for time in Mitigating Global Warming through land-use change and forestry," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 239-270, September.
    5. Dahlstrom, Kristina & Ekins, Paul, 2006. "Combining economic and environmental dimensions: Value chain analysis of UK iron and steel flows," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(3), pages 507-519, June.
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