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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Climate impact of surface albedo change in Life Cycle Assessment: Implications of site and time dependence

Sieber, Petra; Ericsson, Niclas; Hansson, Per-Anders


Land use affects the global climate through greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions, as well as through changes in biophysical properties of the surface. Anthropogenic land use change over time has caused substantial climate forcing related to albedo, i.e. the share of solar radiation reflected back off the ground. There is growing concern that albedo change may offset climate benefits provided by afforestation, bioenergy or other emission reduction measures that affect land cover. Conversely, land could be managed actively to increase albedo as a strategy to combat global warming.Albedo change can be directly linked to radiative forcing, which allows its climate impact to be compared with that of greenhouse gases in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). However, the most common LCA methods are static and linear and thus fail to account for the spatial and temporal dependence of albedo change and its strength as a climate forcer. This study sought to develop analytical methods that better estimate radiative forcing from albedo change by accounting for spatial and temporal variations in albedo, solar irradiance and transmission through the atmosphere. Simplifications concerning the temporal resolution and aggregation procedures of input data were evaluated.The results highlight the importance of spatial and temporal variations in determining the climate impact of albedo change in LCA. Irradiance and atmospheric transmittance depend on season, latitude and climate zone, and they co-vary with instantaneous albedo. Ignoring these dependencies led to case-specific errors in radiative forcing. Extreme errors doubled the climate cooling of albedo change or resulted in warming rather than cooling in two Swedish cases considered. Further research is needed to understand how different land use strategies affect the climate due to albedo, and how this compares to the effect of greenhouse gases. Given that albedo change and greenhouse gases act on different time scales, LCAs can provide better information in relation to climate targets if the timing of flows is considered in life cycle inventory analysis and impact assessment.


LCA; Radiative forcing; Land use change; Land cover change; Albedo; Reflectivity

Published in

Environmental Impact Assessment Review
2019, Volume: 77, pages: 191-200
Publisher: Elsevier {BV}