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Sciencewise publication on Which publics? cited in academic paper on Life Cycle Assessments

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A new paper in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, explores the use of LCAs in the bioenergy field to determine the technology’s sustainability credentials. The paper references the Sciencewise funded publication Which publics? When? by Alison Mohr, Sujatha Raman, Beverley Gibbs, published by Sciencewise in 2013

The paper argues that as LCAs are used in policy development and decision making to reveal wider unintended consequences, such as food/feed competition rather than just direct greenhouse gas impact, the methodology becomes open to greater interpretation. Reliance upon it in policy terms is putting more strain on the methodology and creates the problem of how to communicate scientific uncertainty. It suggests that update of LCA results has been primarily driven by policy setting in recent years, a change from its prior regulatory use. Three main areas are associated with this - communication and complexity, policy and uncertainty, and value and ethical judgements.

The limitations of LCA need to be communicated and that engagement before technical and policy positions become entrenched are more likely to be successful (emphasis added):

"Policymakers generally rely upon straightforward, pragmatic information and while they also require transparency, they often do not feel comfortable with communication at the level of complexity that LCA practitioners feel is necessary. Uncertainty could be considered to be a weakness in LCA, particularly where a ‘single answer’ may be considered by some to be preferential. Through use of the correct tools, however, uncertainty assessment can in fact be used to help support the results by providing a more comprehensive account of the likely range of results (Björklund 2002) and a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its possible solutions (Hellweg and Canals 2014). For example, triangulation with qualitative data enables policymakers to consider quantitative assessments in the broader context of social judgements on what is considered important and why.

'"Controversial topics often also invoke different value sets that vary by community and region ... Analysis of the past management of such issues and differences in the outcomes/ policy measures may provide insights to assist in bioenergy governance and its use of LCA. For example, genetically modified organisms generally see policy support in the USA and opposition in the UK/EU (Mohr et al. 2012; Marques et al. 2014), while climate agendas show the opposite trend (Howell 2013; Corner and Randall 2011). Where successful, it is likely that broader value-based questions were taken into account (Howlett 2012), and engagement before technical and policy positions became entrenched contributed to success (Mohr et al. 2013)."

'Challenge clusters facing LCA in environmental decision-making—what we can learn from biofuels' by Marcelle McManus, Caroline Taylor, Alison Mohr, Carly Whittaker, Corinne Scown, Aiduan Borrion, Neryssa Glithero, Yao Yin, in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 7 August 2015.