Land Use and Land-use Changes in Life Cycle Assessment: Green Modelling or Black Boxing?

De Rosa M (2018)

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Ecological Economics 144:73-81


The assessment of Land Uses and Land-use Changes (LULUC) impacts has become increasingly complex. Sophisticated modelling tools such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) are employed to capture both direct and indirect damages. However, quantitative assessments are often incomplete, dominated by environmental aspects. Land uses are a multidisciplinary matter and environmental and sustainable development policies intertwine. Yet, LCAs mostly focus on environmental impacts excluding socioeconomic implications of land occupation. This paper investigates the limitations of current LULUC modelling practices in LCA. Common LCA assumptions harbor value choices reflect a post-positivist epistemology that are often non-transparent to e.g. policymakers. They particularly influence the definition of the functional unit, the reference system and system boundaries, among other LCA methodological choices. Consequently, results informing land policies may be biased towards determined development strategies or hide indirect effects and socioeconomic damages caused by large-scale land acquisitions, such as violation of tenure rights, speculation and displacement. Quantitative assessments of LULUC impacts are certainly useful but should holistically encompass both direct and indirect impacts concerning the environmental and the social science dimension of LULUC. An epistemological shift towards a dialectic approach would facilitate the integration of multiple tools and methods and a critical interpretation of results.

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