Negotiating forests in the Climate Convention

Among the plethora of acronyms flooding global climate negotiations, LULUCF is one of the most frequently used. Interpreted Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry it has been a controversial issue in the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol and its implementation since the beginning. The battle is still raging in an almost impenetrable fog of calculation methods, reference levels, caps and exceptions and with devils in virtually every detail.

The underlying logic is simple: the larger the amount of biological carbon sequestration countries may account for, the smaller the reductions required from burning of fossil fuel. This has led to negotiating dynamics in which many countries have an interest in rules that maximise LULUCF credits. They pursue accounting rules that are biased towards crediting sinks versus debiting emissions. The rules for LULUCF are a series of attempts to reduce the level of gaming in the system and to steer them in the least damaging direction, while still satisfying the interests of the LULUCF lovers of the world. So far, the outcome of the process is a set of complex and somewhat fragmented rules.

Negotiations for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol continue to point towards a bias in accounting for sinks rather than sources. It appears that parties not only want to account more for sinks, but they don’t want to account for some emissions. Parties have continued to develop fixes for their particular issues and some have even staked their 2020 target on these fixes. New Zealand have stated that their 20 per cent reduction target by 2020 is conditional on LULUCF and Russia’s range of emission reductions is based on the condition that LULUCF will contribute to the target.

At the 7th convention of the parties to the UN Climate Convention (COP 7) in Marrakesh in 2001, eight principles for governing LULUCF activities were adopted in order to ensure that their use should not undermine the environmental integrity of the Kyoto protocol (see box). Parties have continued to accept these principles for the second commitment period (beyond 2012). To what extent they will be implemented remains to be seen. Negotiations on LULUCF rules have been going on since 2008 and become increasingly complicated as attempts are made to include additional land-use activities and to close loop-holes – or to open new ones. No agreement was reached at COP16 in Cancun last December.

Changes and additions to the LULUCF rules in a number of areas are on the negotiating table right now, including:

  • inclusion of additional land-use activities, such as forest degradation and conversion of wetlands.
  • forest management accounting approaches
  • natural disturbances
  • accounting for carbon storage in harvested wood products.

Presently, conversion of forested to non-forested land is included in LULUCF accounting, while degradation of forest is not. However, degradation (i.e. loss of biomass) from selective logging, fuel wood collection or fire can result in substantial reduction of forest carbon stocks. If degradation was included in the accounting, such as proposed by Tuvalu, it would remove an imbalance particularly for those countries that have chosen to include forest management in their LULUCF accounting.

Wetland management has been proposed as a new LULUCF activity. The conversion of wetlands is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. There is, however, doubt whether emissions from peat land management can be correctly quantified and transparently reported.

At present, Kyoto Protocol Parties may voluntarily include forest management in their LULUCF accounting up to a cap agreed in the Marrakesh accords. A number of parties have proposed new options for the next commitment period, aiming at increasing incentives to include forest management. Some of these proposals would increase the possible forest management credits dramatically – and thus decrease the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions correspondingly.

Due to the potentially large emissions from natural disturbances, such as forest fires and pest outbreaks, parties are trying to address ways to exclude these emissions from their accounting. In the negotiations the term “force majeure” is used for these events, which are in fact part of natural dynamics in a large part of the world’s forests.

A number of countries have proposed that carbon storage in harvested wood products (HWP) should be included in the second commitment period LULUCF accounting rules, while others oppose this. The issue is that part of the carbon in harvested wood is not released into the atmosphere immediately, but stored in long-lived wood products (such as wooden houses) and landfills. Critics claim that no workable, consistent and comprehensive approach for calculating this pool has been adopted. Furthermore, accounting for additions to the pool of wood products without accounting for emissions from the entire pool could incentivise increased harvesting and thus unsustainable logging.

Roger Olsson

Based on LULUCF-Briefing by Climate Analytics 2010.

The Marrakesh principles on LULUCF
  • That the treatment of these activities be based on sound science;
  • That consistent methodologies be used over time for the estimation and reporting of these activities;
  • That the aim stated in Article 3, paragraph 1 of the Kyoto Protocol not be changed by accounting for land use, land-use change and forestry activities;
  • That the mere presence of carbon stocks be excluded from accounting;
  • That the implementation of land use, land-use change and forestry activities contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources;
  • That accounting for land use, land-use change and forestry does not imply a transfer of commitments to a future commitment period;
  • That reversal of any removal due to land use, land-use change and forestry activities be accounted for at the appropriate point in time;
  • That accounting excludes removals resulting from: (i) elevated carbon dioxide concentrations above their pre-industrial level; (ii) indirect nitrogen deposition; and (iii) the dynamic effects of age structure resulting from activities and practices before the reference year.


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