Using Life Cycle Analysis

We’ll be better able to achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we understand how those emissions are connected to the decisions, policies, behaviours, and habits that give rise to energy consumption. There are different ways of looking at emissions that make these connections more clear.

What are the emission impacts of using high-efficiency appliances and lighting? Of telecommuting and teleshopping? Of waste reduction and recycling? Of green buildings? By helping us ask and answer these questions, and others like them, life cycle analysis reframes the challenge of reducing GHG emissions and opens up more potential routes to a low-carbon energy future.

Here are three ways to allocate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the economic activities that produce them. The second and third are forms of life cycle analysis:

  • Point of Emissions Allocation assigns GHGs to the sectors and provinces where the electricity is generated or the fuel is extracted. In this familiar framework, fossil fuel and electric power production account for half of Canada’s emissions.
  • End Use Allocation focuses on the sectors of the economy where the energy is actually used. Rather than holding power plants responsible for all the GHGs they produce, this approach assigns the emissions to the residential, commercial, manufacturing, and transportation sectors that actually use—and can reduce their demand for—the fuel and electricity.
  • Energy Services Allocation paints a much more complete picture of energy use. It traces more than half of Canada’s emissions back to a demand for heat, mostly in low- and medium-temperature applications like space heating, water heating, and some industrial processes. About a third of emissions are associated with personal mobility (mostly cars) and goods movement (mostly trucks), and another 13 per cent is derived from electricity-specific uses like lighting, electronics, small motors and appliances, information processing, and communications. Changes in the way these goods and services are produced can deliver the deepest reductions in energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.

This section was adapted from Same Greenhouse Gas, Three Different Stories, Ralph Torrie’s article in the January 2013 edition of Alternatives Journal.

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