By Piers Maclaren
I have met many of the participants of this workshop at various conferences in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a great delight to see you here in New Zealand, because this small country is quite isolated and is difficult to visit. I hope you will take the opportunity to see some more of New Zealand before returning home.
From my perspective, this has been an excellent workshop, with very clear presentations of papers that contain considerable substance. Keith Mackie provided the welcome on behalf of Forest Research, and he correctly stated that key outcomes of the Kyoto Protocol were the inclusions of forest sinks and emissions trading. Joseph Spitzer welcomed us on behalf of the IEA Task XV/25, and then made the understatement of the day by saying that the Protocol produced more questions than answers.
The first speaker was Murray Ward, from the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, who gave a fascinating first-hand account of Kyoto. As an active and influential participant in the negotiations, Murray summed up the feeling of that conference with the expression: "for now, lets allow the minimum amount of sinks possible". Sinks were seen as a cop-out by many delegates. For others, they involved the "fear of the unknown". There was also a lot of ignorance, for example in the confusion of sinks and reservoirs. The words of the Protocol could not be taken at face value, because there was a political background behind each one. It will be evident to workshop participants that Murray has an excellent grasp of the scientific concepts behind carbon sequestration. This gives me great satisfaction to observe. When I see a government official with this advanced level of understanding, I feel that¾ as a scientist whose job is to advise such people¾ I have done my job.
Bernhard Schlamadinger followed closely on from Murray, detailing some of the confusions and perversities evident in the existing protocol. He mentioned, for example, that if harvesting is to distinguished from deforestation then the minimum or maximum time-interval between periods of forest cover should be clearly specified. Allowing Land Use Change and Forestry (LUCF) sinks to be excluded from the 1990 baseline and LUCF sources to be included would result in great distortions for those countries that possess both. If the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows, say, the US to gain credits from tree-planting in Costa Rica, what happens when those sinks become a steady-state reservoir, or¾ worse¾ a source? Bernhard thought that, for forestry, a longer time span for reporting was necessary than the 5 years implicit in the Protocol. Despite its failings, Bernhard thought the Protocol was "a good beginning". I agree with him, but think that the Protocol has already achieved some of its goals. It has brought the Greenhouse Effect to the attention of many people who had previously ignored it. The presence of so many representatives of industry in this workshop is evidence that it is being taken seriously, and that decisions are being taken today on the basis that future supplies of cheap fossil fuel may be restricted.
Doug Bradley brought a Canadian perspective to bear on the Protocol, pointing out that the current provisions do not really apply to Canada, in view of the small area of afforestation that is taking place in that country. The Protocol ignored the huge carbon reservoir in Canadas existing forests, natural or managed. His interpretation of the word reforestation differed from that of Murray Ward. He thought it included replanting (restocking), whereas Murray was convinced that it applied only to land that was being planted in trees having spent a long period in another (low carbon density) land use. Doug thought that forest management that includes fire control, silviculture and disease prevention has a great impact on carbon sequestration, and is cost-effective. He argued, like Bernhard, that a longer time horizon is required to do justice to various management interventions. My view is that increasing the MAI of a forest, by various management techniques, does not necessarily increase its long-term carbon-density. If trees grow faster, they may merely be harvested at a younger age. The advantage in increasing MAI lies in the fact that, because of substitution effects, this would result in decreased use of fossil fuels. This would be accounted for in the "emissions" side of the ledger, and no credit needs to be provided in the columns relating to LUCF.
Murray Parrish spoke on behalf of the Forest Industries of New Zealand. Most people would expect such a person to be enthusiastically in favour of carbon credits from forestry, and no doubt many were surprised at the vehemence with which he opposed such a scheme. He had several objections to carbon credits, including the increase in land prices that is expected to result. He argued that carbon credits would provide a windfall gain to current owners of bare (ie low carbon-density) land, but would provide no lasting benefit to future forest owners who would have to pay more dearly for their most important raw material. Continuing the theme of the previous two speakers, Murray pointed out some perverse consequences of the Protocol. Anthropogenic deforestation, for example, is an expensive debit, but natural deforestation is not counted. This provides a strong incentive for a human who wishes to clear an area of forest to create a "natural" fire. Murray argued that even a modest value placed on carbon credits would soon distort the forestry sector to the stage where it was farming for carbon, with wood as a by-product. Weeds could be more valuable than timber trees. He stated that the global warming was caused by fossil fuels, and should be solved through fossil fuels, without involving the forestry industry. I disagree with him here. Enhanced atmospheric CO2 is in part (perhaps one-third) the result of global deforestation, and reforestation is merely the reverse of the process. Secondly, study after study has shown that afforestation is the most cost-effective mitigation solution, albeit a partial and temporary one.
Greg Marland from Oak Ridge gave a very lucid exposition of GORCAM results. He came up with a whole new list of perverse outcomes from Kyoto, as it currently stands. His central theme was that you dont optimise a system by optimising components of that system, in a piecemeal way. If only post-1990 plantings are to be considered, then we must distinguish the harvested wood from these plantings, and track this right through the economy. It might pay to leave the post-1990 plantings for on-site carbon sequestration, and to obtain wood only from plantings that were established prior to 1990. It might pay Annex I countries to plant their trees in non-Annex I countries, because then they could benefit from the different carbon accounting practices that are outlined in the Protocol.
Alice LeBlanc, from the USA, provided a new perspective on carbon credits, when she described her activities at the project, rather than the national scale. At first glance, project analysis seems premature. How can we make rules for individual industries before we have national rules? For that matter, how can we make national rules before the international agenda has been finalised? But this misses the point. Sure, if legalistic solutions are favoured, where individuals and nations are expected to try to minimise their obligations to the rest of the human race, then Alices work is misguided. But if there are people out there with goodwill, who genuinely want to take responsibility for their actions, then she is ahead of her time. Alice has brought together more than 160 companies who are prepared to operate on a voluntary, self-regulatory basis. While the international community dithers, people like Alice are actually doing things.
For the second part of the talk, she presented a paper by Neil Bird. This was a clever piece of work that described the effects of fire on the carbon stocks of a forest, with and without human intervention. Neil, from Canada, echoed Doug Bradleys point that for some countries fire prevention can be many times more important than afforestation programs. My attitude is that Neil has usefully contributed to scientific knowledge by providing one piece of the global climate change jigsaw puzzle. However, if he thinks his work can be used in the legalistic framework of international carbon trading, then he is living in cloud cuckoo land. As a questioner pointed out, the error limits are higher than the sequestrations estimates. Emissions trading will involve billions of dollars, so precision is vital. I doubt that science has the ability to simulate fluctuations in "natural" forests, in view of the high incidence of natural perturbations that occur (such as El Nino), and the chaotic flow-on effects that result from those. Lastly, I question the wisdom of interfering with a regularly burnt, low carbon-density ecosystem. The Australian flora and fauna, for example, is the result of 50,000 years of almost continuous burning by aborigines. Excessive fire prevention has changed the composition of plants and animals, and produced cataclysms like Ash Wednesday.
Leif Gustavsson provided an engineers perspective from Sweden. For a long time I have greatly respected the achievements of the Swedish people. Back in 1980, they introduced measures to reduce energy consumption, which created a particularly difficult 1990 baseline to overcome. Are they dismayed? Not a bit of it. They are now attempting to eliminate both nuclear energy and fossil fuels! And how will they do this? Through bioenergy! I am not an engineer and I became confused with all the comparisons of heat pumps and pellet boilers, cogeneration plants and combined cycle technology, but I do know one thing: if there is any one country that can succeed in developing an economy based on bio-fuels, then that country must be Sweden.
Trevor Matheson, from Coal Research Limited New Zealand, described a trial comparing coal with bio-fuel. The latter had low levels of pollutants, except for particulates, CO and CH4. Questioners pointed out that the pollution was because the fuel was too moist. The researchers had not used standard technology, and the IEA combustion task group could have provided useful advice. Trevor argued that bio-fuels could not totally replace coal as this was necessary for cement and steel manufacture (most of the workshop participants appeared to disagree). Transport fuels were critically important in the New Zealand scene, and¾ at least with current price structures¾ neither coal nor bio-fuels were suitable.
Justin Ford-Robertson gave a very clear explanation of some of the carbon modelling concepts used in New Zealand. A feature of his talk was the inclusion of methane, which, as a product of livestock, is a major component of New Zealands greenhouse balances. Conversion of pasture to forestry displaces livestock, and therefore provides benefits additional to those involving CO2. Justin said there may be a loss of carbon in mineral soil, as a result of afforestation, but this is minor compared to the total positive effects. New Zealand will have an almost embarrassing surplus of carbon credits in the reporting period of 2008-2012, but¾ as Murray Ward pointed out¾ this does not mean that New Zealands fossil fuel users can expect a "free ride". New Zealands carbon credits will be available for sale to the highest bidder, overseas or domestic. Domestic fossil fuel emitters will therefore not be insulated from international pressure to reduce emissions. I have been involved in the science of carbon sequestration for almost 9 years, and I sometimes find it embarrassing to stand at conferences alongside large countries like the U.S. and Russia, given New Zealands insignificance in the global greenhouse gas picture. On the other hand, our small size and intense focus (one major plantation species) enables us to clarify the concepts and models. This is New Zealands major contribution to the debate. From our simple situation, we can easily progress to more complicated, interesting forestry questions.
Timo Karjalainen, from the European Forest Institute, demonstrated once again the superb understanding that Fins have of their forests. Their models are sensitive to environmental factors, such as temperature, and include soil carbon and wood products. They have been tested by a series of eight national forest inventories. To New Zealanders, it may seem strange to develop such a high level of expertise for forests that have an MAI one-twentieth that of this country. But, on the other hand, their managed forests are twenty times the area of those in New Zealand. Despite being on the opposite sides of the world, and originating from quite different cultures, Finland and New Zealand appear to have a lot in common. We have similar sized countries and similar people. For both of us, forestry is a business, not just a hobby. Ian Hunter, who worked for years in New Zealands Forest Research Institute, became head of EFI. Timos major conclusion was that global warming would result in a turnaround from the Finland forests being a sink to being a source. This was no surprise to me. Indeed, there is no forest anywhere that can be a carbon sink in perpetuity. Even without global warming, they must all eventually become steady-state reservoirs, or¾ more likely¾ fluctuate between being sinks and sources. When the "missing sink" becomes a "missing source", the global scientific community will develop a greater interest in this problem.
Kim Pingoud, also from Finland, has accumulated an impressive amount of comparative data on bioenergy. The expertise of the Fins is demonstrated by the fact that they are building pulpmills in other European countries, who are themselves at the forefront of industrial development. As this is not my speciality, I could not follow much of Kims points, but I did observe the importance he places on biomass fuels, as a step towards self-sufficiency in energy production. This applies particularly to industries included in the forestry sector. Lastly, I have great admiration for people like Kim who have the ability to present papers in other languages¾ English is the fourth language that Kim leaned! I could not give a paper in any language other than English.
David Whitehead, from New Zealand, described his elevated CO2 project using waste gas from municipal effluent ponds. Two species of trees had been used, and after three years he can report that a high CO2 environment appears to result in a continued increase in uptake. This is not, however, reflected in continued growth. David used the expression "diameter growth", which puzzled me, because diameter growth in radiata pine climaxes at a very early age, even without enhanced CO2. It would be more relevant to use basal area or total biomass growth relative to ambient CO2. Nevertheless, some factor other than CO2 is probably limiting growth. Even if David is able to demonstrate that future trees will have higher rates of growth than present, this tells us nothing about the carbon density of future forests. Carbon stocks may not increase, because trees are merely harvested (or die naturally) at a younger age. David also consistently used the word "forest" when he meant "stand". This is a common fault throughout the literature: there are huge problems involved in "scaling up" an experiment from a leaf to a tree to a stand to a forest to the biosphere, and we cannot assume that this involves only simple multiplication. Having said this, David must be congratulated on satisfactorily completing an experiment of international importance with a shoestring budget.
Joseph Spitzer ended the formal talks with a short plea to concentrate on the bioenergy aspects of carbon sequestration, rather than being diverted into the issue of changes in standing carbon stocks, which he sees as a minor consideration.
One final comment: during the Kyoto meeting, our local environmentalists (Greenpeace New Zealand) made a characteristic protest. They scaled our parliament buildings, with a solar panel, to make the point that the future lies in solar energy. I think they have got it half right. They are quite correct in observing that the income of the world is the sunlight that falls on the planet every day, and that fossil fuels represent our capital. As any businessman knows, it is unsustainable to go on living off your capital. What Greenpeace have failed to appreciate is that a solar panel does not have to be an artificial construct of plastic, glass and aluminium. This device takes energy to manufacture, and in any case does not store the electricity that it captures. To do that, we need backup systems of hydroelectric dams. I dont know why some environmentalists are so opposed to most forestry practices, especially plantation forestry, because a tree is just a natural, biological, solar panel and fuel storage unit. Bioenergy is the sustainable, green solution for the twenty-first century. Thank you.