Policy statement

The Life Cycle Assessment: Road Vehicle Emissions Measurement

This policy statement looks at current measures in place to reduce vehicle emissions, and how ‘Life Cycle Assessment’ (LCA), by examining all the stages of a car’s life, could improve upon the current methodology.

The UK has a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050. The automotive industry contributes nearly a quarter of the UK’s total emissions. Action is therefore needed to reduce this level.

Current policy on vehicle emissions focuses on tailpipe emissions, but this is not the whole story and could be misleading. There is a need to measure road vehicles’ overall contribution to emissions by including their manufacturing, usage and end-of-life disposal.

With the advent of zero (tailpipe) emission cars and the increasing efficiency of conventional engines, a broader perspective is needed to help maintain the relevance of legislation and industry best practice. Otherwise, industry could be misleading the public and potentially skewing consumer behaviour.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a technique that calculates the environmental impact of a product by looking at its life holistically. Environmental impacts are broadly categorised under three headings: resource depletion, effect on human health and ecological impacts. (For the purpose of this position statement we are considering only the ecological impacts for LCA.)

A typical product’s LCA might begin with the extraction of its raw materials and end with its eventual disposal, re-use or recycling. Inputs and outputs of energy, materials and other factors are measured and compared at every stage. This allows stages with the most potential for improvement to be identified, and can show if an attempt to improve the sustainability of one stage will inadvertently negatively affect another.

Key recommendations

  1. Centre (TIC) for Transport in 2012
    This TIC would agree the agenda for a framework that defines the methodology for calculating the LCA metrics. We believe that managing this metric through a TIC would encourage a holistic approach to LCA across all modes of transport.
  2. Enforce the implementation of LCA legislation by 2015
    This approach will ensure that we do not move the environmental impact of vehicles from the use phase, where it is currently tightly controlled, to another part of the life cycle. Using an LCA methodology allows industry to be technology-neutral. It would have no bias towards petrol, diesel, electric, synthetic, biofuels or fuel-cell cars etc, encouraging a greater range of methods and innovation.
  3. Review current vehicle taxation by 2015
    Taxation of vehicles should reflect long-term emissions targets based on road vehicles’ life cycle emissions, as opposed to their tailpipe emissions.



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