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Through Understanding of Socioeconomic Metabolism towards Sustainability

Final Report Summary - THUNDER (Through Understanding of Socioeconomic Metabolism towards Sustainability)

This final report provides a summary of a three year project Thunder (Through understanding of socioeconomic metabolism towards sustainability) financed under grant number PCIG13-GA-2013-618520. This project comprised two parts: (a) scientific and (b) integration of the researcher to the host institution. The objectives of the scientific part of this project were (a) to establish a set of footprint indicators in order to monitor human environmental burden; and (b) to integrate this set of indicators in a multi-regional input-output framework, at least partially; (c) Assessment of the shifts of environmental pressure by international trade; and (d) update of the model. The integration of the researcher was focused on establishing Jan Weinzettel as an influential and autonomous member of the Charles University Environment Center and establishing his co-operation with his new colleagues after returning from a research position at NTNU in Trondheim (Norway).

In response to continuing environmental degradation, policymakers have been asking for an indicator to monitor the overall environmental burden imposed by human society, in analogy to GDP (Gross Domestic Product). However, as research developed, it was clear that at least currently, the human environmental burden is too complex to be captured by one single number. Therefore, a set of indicators needs to be established. The first objective of this project was focused on the development of such set of indicators which would be suitable for monitoring the complex human induced environmental burden. In order to acknowledge that the human environmental burden exceeds national boundaries due to the worldwide web of supply chains which enables people to distribute the environmental burden globally, the indicators were suggested as “footprint” indicator, addressing the whole production chain of products consumed and therefore accounting for environmental burden induced globally, irrespective of national boundaries. This set of indicators was established based on three concepts: (a) planetary boundaries, (b) life cycle impact assessment and (c) standalone environmental footprints. The final set is composed of the following footprints: Carbon Footprint – to assess contribution to climate change, Potential net primary production footprint – to assess the pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity, Stratospheric ozone depletion footprint, Eutrophication footprint, Scarce water footprint, acidification footprint, scarce mineral footprint, Smog footprint, toxicity footprint, particulate matter formation footprint and Ionising radiation footprint.

Since the footprint indicators contain also processes beyond national boundaries, these must be estimated. One option of how to estimate “footprint” indicators is through an environmentally extended multi-regional input-output analysis (EE-MRIO). Therefore, the second objective of this project was to partially integrate this set of indicators with EE-MRIO. It was further narrowed to the potential net primary production footprint and scarce water footprint. Those two indicators were linked and estimated through EE-MRIO based on Exiobase dataset.

The third scientific objective was to analyze the global transfers of these footprints globally by international trade. The analyses results showed that the footprint of imported products is higher for wealthier countries for both footprints.

Since Exiobase is used as the monetary core of the EE-MRIO and the update of Exiobase was not made available by the end of the project, only the procedure to update the harvest and international trade of primary biomass products was updated for which the latest bulk download data from FAOSTAT was used. It is now very easy to update the whole model to the most recent year for which Exiobase data is available when it is made accessible in the near future.

The integration of Jan Weinzettel to the host institution was achieved. At the end of the project period Jan Weinzettel’s position was improved to VP3 (the highest class for researchers at the host institution) and the temporary position was prolonged for the next three years (up to 31st December 2019). Jan Weinzettel also gained a Charles University research grant and a grant of the Czech Science Foundation to continue in his research field. He closely co-operates with his colleagues, namely David Vačkář, Milan Ščasný , Dana Kapitulčinová, Jan Kovanda, and Jana Dlouhá on existing research projects and on the preparation of new project proposals (Jan Melichar). Regarding knowledge transfer to PhD students, Jan Weinzettel is supervising PhD candidate Barbora Vlasatá, who focuses on the use of LCA (life cycle assessment) in the construction sector, and co-supervising PhD candidate Radomír Mach, who focuses on household environmental footprints.