"The DANGER to FORESTS is not over"

The subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN FCCC) met from June 2-12 1998 in Bonn, Germany. A good part of the deliberations was spent in addressing the issue of land use change and forestry (LUCF), and their treatment as sinks to mop up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Amid the high drama that ensued during the debate on the issue of sinks, NIKHAT JAMAL QAIYUM spoke to STEPHAN SINGER, head of department, climate and energy policy, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who led the non-governmental organisations' (NGO) intervention in the LUCF Contact Group

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

What in your opinion were the contentious issues in the deliberations on sinks at the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SUBSTA)?
Most issues were contentious as many parties had no clue what the issue of "sinks" was all about. This showed neglect or ignorance regarding climate feedbacks on forests, and thus the need for permanent carbon storage in order to credit offsets. Contentious issue were the lack of definitions, such as "what actually is a forest?"; compliance with carbon management over time; the role of forest fires and soil carbon. From my point of view, the current provisions in the Kyoto Protocol provide fodder for a potential massacre of global forests, giving perverse incentives for cutting old growth forests and establishing artificial plantations.

When countries came to Bonn, many did not understand the full implications of the relevant paragraphs in the protocol. The same is true for many scientists and NGOS. But what do you expect from negotiations which try to bring about a consensus in 48 hours on an issue that has been a topic of debate ever since the Kyoto Protocol (December 1997)? Experience shows that countries always choose the worst of available options. Still, it was very enlightening to note that an agreement to have a special report on sinks-related issues by the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the year 2000 came out of the SBSTA meet.

How were the parties polarised on questions of timing and content of the report?
Initially, certain countries from the JUSSCANZ group (Japan, US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand) wanted a technical report by the IPCC. This kind of report would by definition only cover science already taken into account in the IPCC Second Assessment Report. But in recent years, a lot of new research is coming out. A special report covers all available, and thus recent, science. WWF and most NCOS are quite happy about it. The report may explain why forest protection is so important and why it cannot be traded against carbon reductions at source. Moreover, questioning the entire approach to include sinks was not possible under current circumstances.

In the end, it was again only the US confronting the rest of the parties and insisting on a less comprehensive technical report. Even parties such as Australia and New Zealand, which have earlier tended to downplay the ecological consequences of sinks, were supportive of a special report. They have hopefully recognised the importance of forests as global assets. But the us made it clear that their approval of a special report is linked to a contribution from somewhere else.

Which parties were most vocal on these issues?
The US as the most pronounced blocking party, the European Union (EU) as a sound supporter for a scientific approach, South Africa and Marshall Islands which took the lead for developing countries and Poland as a capable facilitator.

What was the NGO intervention in the contact group able to achieve? This is always hard to say. Basically, we made sure that for NGOS this issue was much more than a classical loophole that can be traded off in later negotiations. NGOS emphasised that global forests are of utmost importance and that forests represent much more than just carbon sinks.

What are your reactions to the final conclusions on LUCF reached at the SBSTA?
This time we are quite satisfied with the achievements. But that does not mean the danger to forests is over. Its a cease-fire.

What homework needs to be done by the developing countries on this issue before the Fourth Convention of Parties in Argentina?
I wish developing countries do not open up their forest resources for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, and do not support Annex I countries to get away with just cutting carbon both domestically and at source. I wish developing countries increased support towards forest protection and reforestation, and also helped indigenous people live off sustainably with their precious forest resources.

A good documentation on develop-ing countries' efforts to counter deforestation would be very useful in Buenos Aires. I strongly believe that developing countries also must start with land reforms to overcome rural inequity and poverty. They should put an end to the landless people running towards the wild woods for survival. This increases land clearance and thus aggravates deforestation.

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