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Environmental footprints: assessing anthropogenic effects on the planet's environment

Promotor: Prof.dr. G.R. de Snoo, Co-promotor: R. Heijungs

K. Fang
24 November 2015
Thesis in Leiden Repository

The aims of this thesis are to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the theoretical and methodological aspects of environmental footprints and into the disciplinary relationship with the latest science in defining planetary boundaries for human activities. Main conclusions are as follows: (1) environmental footprints are measures of anthropogenic pressure or impact on the planet's environment irrespective of their precise units and dimensions; (2) environmental footprints are classified into the inventory-oriented footprints and impact-oriented footprints, which offer two competing paradigms for footprint indicators; (3) integrating the impact-oriented footprints provides policy makers with a unified approach to assessing overall environmental impacts and has a broader scope of applicability than life cycle assessment; (4) life cycle assessment cannot be interpreted as a versatile tool for accounting for all possible environmental footprints, although the footprint community has indeed learned and borrowed much from it; (5) latest science in planetary boundaries is found to complement environmental footprints in assessing environmental sustainability that is a critical prerequisite for the economic and social pillars of sustainable development; and (6) the sustainability gap between the converted footprint and boundary metrics plays a central role in understanding the national performance on individual and collective environmental issues.

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