Climate Change

Under the microscope: LULUCF

Several Annex I countries are lobbying for shoddy accounting practices that would weaken their overall emissions targets

Published: Monday 07 December 2009

Thursday's big story was undoubtedly the breakdown of the CMP, or Kyoto Protocol, plenary.

But in addition to the drama in formal negotiating sessions, there's plenty going on behind the scenes as small groups of delegates prepare draft text for specific elements, or chapters, of the Bali Action Plan: on topics like technology transfer, forestry, funding, etc. Equitywatch will bring you analysis on the good and bad in these proposals, as details emerge.

Today, a look at new text on LULUCF, or Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry.

Playing with numbers
LULUCF has always been a tricky issue. Whereas greenhouse gas emissions from energy-related sources (like power plants or vehicles) are relatively easy to calculate, it's hard to accurately estimate emissions related to land use. The result you get can be heavily influenced by the methodologies you choose; hence, whenever it comes time to negotiating LULUCF provisions, there's always a fight over methodologies.

At a press conference, the Climate Action Network (a coalition of non-governmental organisations), shed light on one dodgy methodology that several industrialised countries are endeavouring to put in the LULUCF text.

Here's the issue: when forests are cut down, some of the carbon they contain is released to the atmosphere. If you avoid deforestation, you reduce overall emissions. But what exactly does it mean to avoid deforestation? And how do you quantify it?

One option is to ask countries to predict how much forest they expect to cut down, say in 2020. Then, in 2020, if you find that fewer forests have been cut than what was predicted, voilà: avoided deforestation! Right?

Not so fast. This kind of system is wide open to gaming. If a country, like Sweden or Japan or New Zealand (and these aren't arbitrary choices), says it's going to cut down lots of forests between now and 2020, and especially if that number is suspiciously higher than what it's cut down in the last few years, you have to wonder: what's going on?

Either it's ramping up deforestation, which is bad for the climate, and shouldn't go unpenalised; or, it's lying about how much forest it plans to cut down so that later, it can claim credit for "avoiding deforestation"...that wasn't really going to happen anyway.

The Climate Action Network says that this loophole, known as "projecting reference levels" for future emissions, could weaken Kyoto Parties' aggregate emissions targets by 3 to 5 per cent. To avoid this weakening of targets, they say that future estimates of deforestation should not be allowed to deviate significantly from historical data.

When the LULUCF text becomes public, later this week or next, we'll see whether or not sense has ultimately prevailed.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.