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LCA of Swiss Agriculture Under Climate Change & Impacts of Water Use on Aquatic Biodiversity

This dissertation by Danielle Tendall from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETHZ looks at the environmental impacts of agricultural adaptation to climate change in Switzerland. It uses life cycle assessment (LCA) and assesses agricultural adaptation based on two models, one optimizing agricultural management at the farm scale and the other at a regional scale. Farm-scale adaptation was modeled as the choices in crops, fertilization and irrigation intensity, and number/type of livestock (ruminants only) that maximized economic profit of the farm. Regional-scale adaptation was modeled as spatially-explicit choices in crops, fertilization and irrigation intensity, maximizing yields while minimizing erosion, nitrate leaching and water use.

The dissertation contributes with an extended set of environmental categories in the assessment of impacts adaptation simulations. It  also develops a new indicator for assessing the impacts of river water withdrawals on aquatic biodiversity, something that has not been included in previous studies.

The dissertation assesses two potential interventions mitigating some of the environmental trade-offs, one using groundwater rather than river water for irrigation where it found that this could avoid 33% of the impacts on aquatic biodiversity without significant impacts elsewhere. Secondly it assesses if an increased shaded area of the river could mitigate a part of the detrimental water temperature. In this case it was noted that this measure was insufficient to avoid expected impacts.

The study concludes that a combination of complementary solutions will be required to achieve a necessary compromise between environmental, economic and self-sufficiency goals. Outcomes are highly sensitive to policy scenarios, with differentiated results according to region and farm type. This suggests that there is a large potential for policy to promote the mitigation of impacts, and that policy may need to be similarly differentiated according to region and farm type in order to maximize efficiency. 


Tendall, D., Life Cycle Assessment of Swiss Agriculture under Climate Change and the Impacts of Water Use on Aquatic Biodiversity, 2013, PhD Thesis 21419, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETHZ, Zurich, Switzerland.

Danielle’s full PhD dissertation can be downloaded here. You may also want to look through other dissertations that have been produced, or submit your own if you feel they are relevant and of interest. Contact us at

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