Research Papers: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate Policy Decisions Require Policy-Based Lifecycle Analysis

By Antonio M. Bento, Richard Klotz

Environmental Science & Technology


Lifecycle analysis (LCA) metrics of greenhouse gas emissions are increasingly being used to select technologies supported by climate policy. However, LCAs typically evaluate the emissions associated with a technology or product, not the impacts of policies. Here, we show that policies supporting the same technology can lead to dramatically different emissions impacts per unit of technology added, due to multimarket responses to the policy. Using a policy-based consequential LCA, we find that the lifecycle emissions impacts of four US biofuel policies range from a reduction of 16.1 gCO2e to an increase of 24.0 gCO2e per MJ corn ethanol added by the policy. The differences between these results and representative technology-based LCA measures, which do not account for the policy instrument driving the expansion in the technology, illustrate the need for policy-based LCA measures when informing policy decision making.

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