Title: Estimating environmental impacts from trade – a life cycle indicators approach
Publisher: SETAC
Publication Year: 2013
JRC N°: JRC84188
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC84188
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: In the context of an increasingly fragmentised world production, the analysis of the global production chains is interesting from many perspectives, not the least important being the assessment of the resulting environmental consequences. The life cycle indicators developed within this project are a response to the question about quantification of the environmental impacts related to the country or territory total consumption. The coherent framework of life cycle indicators includes resource indicators, basket-of-product indicators and waste management indicators, so to give the full picture of the environmental impacts related to the European consumption and production. One of the most important features is that the indicators developed are based on a life cycle perspective, thus have a global relevance. Therefore, in the indicators’ framework this is represented by including environmental impacts occurring abroad, but related to national or European demand for imported goods. Only a broad coverage of all relevant impacts ensures that burdens are not shifted, for example, to more land use or more pollutant release while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The approach followed within the life cycle indicators framework assigns the environmental impact to the country where the consumption of the product occurs. For the production of each product, two components can be distinguished: an imported component and a domestic component. The latter forms the part of the domestic inventory and is treated separately, whereas for each of the imported component the inventory has to be created. When some of the product that is produced with imported and domestic components is further exported, the environmental impacts that are associated to it (be it domestic or imported) are also assigned to the importing country. Addressing the environmental impact related to trade starts with choosing the most important product groups based on the structure of trade. Then, for each of the product group the representative product(s) are chosen together with their source countries (initially 3). Finally, life cycle inventories (LCIs) are linked to the quantities of the traded products. To address the limits posed by the availability of LCI datasets for each traded product, the total inventory is created by up-scaling the inventories created for representative products. The up-scaling is conducted first to reach the total for the representative product, then to reach the total for product groups, and finally to reach the total for the country. Up-scaling – even if already giving interesting insights to the sources of European environmental impacts – should be considered as temporary. As the number of available datasets will grow, the up-scaling will become less and less important in the calculation of the environmental impacts of the European Union trade, although might not necessary be completely eliminated. This paper presents the first attempt to assess the environmental impact of European trade, using the framework of the life cycle indicators as the basis. Understanding the environmental impacts arising from the upstream production of imported goods is of increasing importance in European Union from a strategic point of view. It has made its way to the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, stemming from the Europe 2020 Strategy and its flagship initiative on resource efficiency, and provides a structured and quantitative basis for future policy making.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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