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a spatially differentiated life cycle impact assessment method

Ecosystem Quality

Climate Change

Ecosystem Quality

Climate Change

Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases cause the future climate to change. This change in climate affects the Areas of Protection ‘Human Health’ and ‘Ecosystem quality’, the latter is divided into freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems.

Cause-effect pathway

The emission of greenhouse gases will cause a rise in the earth’s atmospheric temperature which ultimately leads to increased damage to Human health and Ecosystems, this overview focuses on the ecosystems.

picture of Cause-effect pathway

Modeling approach

A marginal approach for calculating the characterization factors is followed, meaning that the additional impact of a marginal increase in greenhouse gas emissions using today’s situation as the reference state. Impact is measured in potentially disappeared fraction of species for ecosystem quality.

Value choices

A number of choices have been made for the calculation of the characterization factors, namely:

  • The time horizon over which effects are assessed
  • Whether fish are representative of the freshwater ecosystem as a whole

Depending on which future scenario one chooses, different effects may be considered certain or uncertain. These are summarized below:

Core CF Extended CF (in addition to core)
Time horizon (applies to all areas of protection) 100 years 100 - 1000 years
Freshwater Ecosystems None Fish as representative of the entire freshwater ecosystem,
Based on global river basins below 42°

Spatial variability

Climate change is a global phenomenon; the effect of the greenhouse gas is location-independent because the emitted greenhouse gas is assumed to spread evenly throughout the entire atmosphere.

Characterisation factors

The following equation can be used to calculate the characterisation factors (CF):


where GWP is the Global Warming Potential of greenhouse gas x. TH is the time horizon δTEMP is the temperature increase due to the release of 1 kg of CO2 and EF is the effect factor for a given Area Of Protection (AOP), in this case, either freshwater or terrestrial ecosystems.

GWPs are used to compare the effect of different greenhouse gases relative to the reference gas (CO2), because the atmospheric lifetimes of greenhouse gases differ they are time-horizon dependent. By multiplying the GWP (in kg CO2 equivalents) by the effect of CO2 on the global temperature increase and the effect factor of a temperature increase on ecosystems the final characterization factor can be obtained.