Fostering environmental sustainability

UN Environment boosts global application of life cycle approaches

  • 29/05/2019
  • 1 min reading time
environmental sustainability
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Life cycle approaches have been acknowledged as a must to achieve sustainability by the Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4) celebrated last month in Nairobi, Kenya.

The world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment namely the United Nations Environment Assembly supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Rio+20 outcome document, “The future we want” by promoting effective international environmental governance and pursuing environmental sustainability. To this end, life cycle approaches, including life cycle assessment, have been recognised by the UNEA4 as critical to achieve sustainable consumption and production, increase resource efficiency, and reduce risks, such as hazardous chemicals and all forms of waste.

LCA is a vital and powerful decision support tool that can be applied to improving sustainability in product and service development.

According to the European Commission’s General guide for life cycle assessment, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a scientific approach behind modern environmental policies and business decision support related to sustainable consumption and production. More specifically, LCA is a structured, comprehensive and internationally standardised method, that serves to quantify all relevant emissions and resources consumed and the related environmental and health impacts and resource depletion issues that are associated with any products or services. Thus, it is a vital and powerful decision support tool that can be applied to improving sustainability in product and service development, as well as sustainable policy-making or strategic planning, among others.

The LCA method is the core of the research conducted by the UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change ESCI-UPF that “contributes to allowing a substantial improvement in methodologies supporting life cycle applications to climate change mitigation,” according to Pere Fullana i Palmer, director at the Chair. At the international arena, the Chair is aligned with the Life Cycle Initiative targets in supporting the global use of credible life cycle knowledge by private and public decision-makers to foster environmental sustainability.

Life Cycle Initiative at UNEA4

During UNEA4, the UN Environment life cycle team, where the Secretariat of the Life Cycle Initiative is hosted, provided technical support in the negotiation of the resolutions. They also organised the Leadership Dialogue on “Life-cycle approaches to resource efficiency, energy, chemicals, and waste management,” concluding that “life cycle approaches provide the systemic perspective necessary to focus on the key levers of change and address potential trade-offs linked to alternative solutions.”

“UN Environment is already contributing to the enabling conditions for the global application of life cycle approaches such as enhanced capacity and access to data, but more is required,” as highlighted by the Initiative. “The digital transformation is an important enabler for the necessary changes connected to life cycle approaches and circular economy – we should encourage traceability, transparency to empower consumers,” they added.

According to the Initiative, the resolutions in this UNEA4 provide many links to the need to base decisions on life cycle approaches and full life cycle assessment.  Furthermore, life cycle approaches can help lower-income countries leap-frogging to a better future focusing on social aspects of the transition, such as employment, inclusiveness, and local benefits. With this aim, “we need a strong focus on cooperation and implementation,” they concluded.

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