Assessing temporary carbon sequestration and storage projects through land use, land-use change and forestry: comparison of dynamic life cycle assessment with ton-year approaches

9 May 2012

Annie Levasseur, Pascal Lesage, Manuele Margni, Miguel Brandão and Réjean Samson


In order to properly assess the climate impact of temporary carbon sequestration and storage projects through land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), it is important to consider their temporal aspect. Dynamic life cycle assessment (dynamic LCA) was developed to account for time while assessing the potential impact of life cycle greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. In this paper, the dynamic LCA approach is applied to a temporary carbon sequestration project through afforestation, and the results are compared with those of the two principal ton-year approaches: the Moura-Costa and the Lashof methods. The dynamic LCA covers different scenarios, which are distinguished by the assumptions regarding what happens at the end of the sequestration period. In order to ascertain the degree of compensation of an emission through a LULUCF project, the ratio of the cumulative impact of the project to the cumulative impact of a baseline GHG emission is calculated over time. This ratio tends to 1 when assuming that, after the end of the sequestration project period, the forest is maintained indefinitely. Conversely, the ratio tends to much lower values in scenarios where part of the carbon is released back to the atmosphere due to e.g. fire or forest exploitation. The comparison of dynamic LCA with the ton-year approaches shows that it is a more flexible approach as it allows the consideration of every life cycle stage of the project and it gives decision makers the opportunity to test the sensitivity of the results to the choice of different time horizons.