|26 October 1998|
LAND USE CHANGE AND FORESTRY UNDER THE KYOTO PROTOCOL:
LOOKING FORWARD TO COP-4
Trexler and Associates, Inc.
As the fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change approaches, a key area requiring clarification is the role that land-use change and forestry (LUCF) mitigation efforts will play under the Kyoto Protocol or any successor instrument. While the Protocol clearly builds biotic sources and sinks into the "netting" of Annex B countries emissions under Article 3.3, the treatment of LUCF projects for project-level mitigation interventions undertaken under Articles 3, 6, and 12 has been left more ambiguous and is the subject of vigorous debate.
To a significant extent, the ambiguous treatment of sinks in the Protocol is the result of policy and technical issues being raised by interest groups and countries who are skeptical or critical of relying on forestry and related mitigation interventions to help achieve the Protocols reduction targets. Concerns commonly expressed by these groups fall into several categories:
At the same time that these questions are being asked, many studies, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have concluded that LUCF interventions (including slowing deforestation, reforestation, assisted regeneration, agroforestry, and sustainable forest management) have an important role to play in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change.
In anticipation of COP-4, this paper briefly reviews the status of forestry and land use-based mitigation efforts under the Protocol and identifies key issues and questions facing decisionmakers in this area.
The Importance of Land-Use Change to Achieving the Kyoto Protocols Objectives
Since before the Industrial Revolution, first temperate and then tropical land-use change has been a key contributor to rising levels of GHGs in the atmosphere; almost one-third of the incremental CO2 now in the atmosphere is the result of such change. Although the relative importance of land use-based emissions is declining as fossil fuel emissions continue to rise, even today human activities are estimated to emit between 1-2 GT of carbon annually from the world's forests and soils, approximately 20 percent of total anthropogenic emissions. In many developing countries, land use-related emissions significantly exceed fossil fuel emissions. Land-use change also contributes to methane and nitrous oxide emissions, primarily as a byproduct of biomass burning.
The links between land-use trends and potential climate change go beyond the fact that deforestation and forest degradation are an ongoing and significant source of GHG emissions, accelerating the buildup of GHGs in the atmosphere. Other important linkages, which continue to be the focus of intensive scientific and policy debate, are:
There is no reason to believe that the absolute contribution of deforestation and forest degradation to global GHG emissions will decline significantly any time soon under business-as-usual. Vast stretches of tropical forest, currently a storehouse for hundreds of billions of tons of carbon, remain threatened by deforestation or degradation. According to the IPCCs 1995 Second Assessment Report, more than 650 million hectares of forest are likely to be lost by 2050. From deforestation alone, more than 75 GT of carbon are likely to be emitted. In addition, hundreds of millions of additional hectares of forest and agricultural land will be degraded, releasing more carbon to the atmosphere. Such statistics lead many observers to argue that LUCF issues are crucially important to the larger issue of climate change mitigation.
Mitigating Climate Change Through Forestry and Land-Use Change Interventions
Many studies over the last 10 years have discussed the role forestry measures could play in climate change mitigation efforts in both industrialized and developing countries. These studies have included work by the IPCC, government agencies, research institutes, and nongovernmental organizations. Much of this research supports forestry as a mitigation strategy not only for its climate change potential, but also for the environmental and socioeconomic co-benefits that would accompany reduced deforestation rates and expanded reforestation programs on suitable lands. Forestry and land use-based interventions that have the potential to significantly contribute to climate change mitigation options fall into several major categories:
International policymakers have repeatedly called for slowing the loss of forests and restoring forest or tree cover. In 1989, 68 environmental ministers from around the world signed the Noordwijk Declaration in the Netherlands, calling for a net increase in global forest cover of 12 million hectares per year to help slow climate change. Similar thinking is reflected in other international policy initiatives, including the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, the Global Forestry Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Forestry, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, among others. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol also explicitly mention these objectives.
Forestry an Early Mitigation Choice
Since the late 1980s, more than two dozen pilot
climate change mitigation projects have been carried out in the forestry sector, involving
a commitment of over US$50 million. Although this figure is small by the standard of
international aid and capital flows, it is a significant figure in forestry and land-use
spending. There are several reasons that forestry projects, and to a lesser extent other
land-use change projects, have been so popular during this first phase of climate change
Projects pursued through the "activities implemented jointly" pilot phase based on LUCF interventions are underway around the world. Over a dozen projects are underway in Annex B countries, including the United States, Canada, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. More are underway in a number of developing countries. Projects being pursued involve a range of forestry and other land-use change interventions:
In addition to individual project-based interventions, countries are pursuing broader innovative forestry initiatives and programs for climate change purposes. These programs include Costa Rica's certified tradeable offsets (CTOs) program, which is based on a national system of forest protection and reforestation incentives, and the Forest Resource Trust in the state of Oregon in the United States. Other countries are expected to follow suit in putting forward national programs.
Much has been learned from these projects regarding the use of forestry for climate change mitigation. These experiences have also helped clarify questions needing resolution regarding forestrys use for climate change mitigation purposes.
The Treatment of LUCF Mitigation Obligations and Options Under the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol
Reducing LUCF-based GHG emissions and enhancing LUCF sinks are important components of the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The FCCC calls upon countries to take measures that would mitigate climate change by "protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs" (Article 4(2)(a)), and to "promote sustainable management, and promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems" (Article 4)(1)(d)).
At the third Conference of the Parties to the FCCC in December 1997, in Kyoto, Japan, forestry and land-use change issues were one of the most-discussed topics. The results were ambiguous, a prime example of "constructive ambiguity" to make the Protocol palatable to key interest groups. This explains how different governments perspectives on what was agreed on in Kyoto can differ so significantly.
Forestrys treatment in the Kyoto Protocol can be summarized as follows:
In effect, LUCF issues under the Protocol fall into two broad categories:
Whether left purposefully vague to postpone ongoing disagreements, or simply the result of a chaotic last minute negotiating process, the sinks language of the Kyoto Protocol in some sense raises more questions than it answers in both categories. It is important to note that most of the discussions in Kyoto regarding sinks focused on the netting issues associated with Article 3.3, rather than on project-based mitigation issues. There is, however, a fundamental difference between thinking about the netting of landscape level estimates of biotic sources and sinks, as Annex B countries are required to engage in pursuant to the provisions of Article 3.3, and the quantification and verification of project-level mitigation interventions under the Protocols flexibility mechanisms.
Sinks questions created by the Protocols language include:
How will sinks projects eventually be treated under the emissions trading auspices of Article 17? This Article is still being thought of primarily in the context of national-level trading of emissions against national baselines, rather than through development of a project-based crediting and trading system. In the long-term, however, it will be important to define how projects fit into the international trading system being considered under Article 17.
The New Role of the IPCC
The first consideration of many of these issues came at the first post-Kyoto climate change negotiations held in June 1998 in Bonn. A primary outcome of the Bonn meetings of the Conventions subsidiary bodies was a request that the IPCC be charged with preparing a special report on land use and forestry (FCCC/SBSTA/1998/INF1). This special report, in conjunction with the IPCCs treatment of sinks in its ongoing Third Assessment Report, should significantly contribute to defining the role sinks will play under the Kyoto Protocol or any successor instrument.
The IPCC recently approved the outline for the special report. A wide range of scientific and technical issues and options associated with Article 3.3 will be addressed by region and will be limited to issues relevant to afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation. Particular attention will be given to carbon accounting rules and the availability of data relevant to carbon quantification requirements at the project, biome, and national inventory scale. Regional and global potentials and the associated impacts of afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation activities will be covered. With respect to Article 3.4, the special report will include definition and analysis of forestry options, their sequestration potential, and ancillary benefits. Special attention is to be given to the issues associated with project-based activities related to the Protocol, but it remains unclear how much project-level issues will ultimately factor into the report.
A Quick Look at the Issues
The debate over forestrys potential role in climate change mitigation efforts has ranged widely over the last decade, from the assertion by some observers that forestry could virtually solve the climate change problem to the arguments by others that forestry has no role to play in a portfolio of mitigation policies and measures. Although many issues have been raised in this debate, they can be grouped into the several categories flagged at the beginning of this paper.
Addressing questions raised by critics of forestry and other LUCF interventions for climate change mitigation purposes is beyond the scope of this short review. It is interesting to note, however, that LUCF measures are often characterized as if they raise fundamentally different issues and concerns than other mitigation interventions, including those undertaken in the energy arena. It is being increasingly recognized that this is an inaccurate perception. As one participant to a recent workshop focusing on forestry mitigation issues noted, "we [forestry experts] have done some damage in getting too involved in technical discussions. As a result, we have confused policymakers. The technical issues for forestry are no more perplexing than they are for energy offsets." Voicing support for this view, another participant said that "the central issue we need to address is not what our confidence level in our forestry measurements is, but to make it clear that forestry offsets can accomplish the same levels of accuracy as energy at equivalent levels of effort. The issue is comparability."
When looking at whatever criteria are chosen by which to define and evaluate mitigation projects, clearly different types of LUCF interventions, and even individual projects within a given type, will perform differently. The same can be said of many energy-based projects. To advance the project-based objectives of the Kyoto Protocol, what is most important is to identify the criteria for a good project and see which projects in whatever sector can meet these criteria.
COP-4 and Treatment of the LUCF Issue
It is difficult to predict how discussions of the LUCF issue will develop at COP-4. Discussions are scheduled to begin on specification of the CDM, a particularly important step if rules are to be in place to guide banking of CDM credits starting in the year 2000. On the other hand, with referral of key methodological issues to the IPCC, there will be a natural tendency among some participants to argue that consideration of LUCF issues should be postponed until the IPCC issues its special report and its Third Assessment Report. Given the increasing priority attached to LUCF measures by many developing countries, this would be a mistake. It is important that flexibility be built into development of the CDM to accommodate a variety of potential mitigation measures, even while IPCC work progresses.
The COP-4 agenda, happily, does not postpone consideration of forestry issues. Indeed, LUCF issues are given immediate attention under the planned agenda. Articles 6, 12 and 17 will also be addressed, although it is unclear whether forestry as a mitigation option will be included in these discussions. Beyond these detailed agenda items, however, the Parties need to grapple with larger policy issues that are relevant to incorporation of LUCF measures into a framework by which the objectives of the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol can be achieved:
Given the complexities of the issues involved, COP-4 could likely be termed a success if processes were initiated for grappling with many of these issues over the next couple of years. There is much for the Parties to think about.
Trexler and Associates Inc. (TAA) is a climate change mitigation firm based in Portland, Oregon, in the United States. TAAs president, Dr. Mark C. Trexler, became actively involved in assessing forestrys potential in climate change mitigation while at the World Resources Institute from 1988-1991, where he participated in the development of the first carbon offset project, the CARE Guatemala project funded by AES Corp. Since its founding in 1991, TAA has worked extensively in the energy and land-use mitigation arenas, participating in the implementation of more than half a dozen domestic and international mitigation projects, including domestic and international forestry projects. TAA directs the Land Use and Biotic Mitigation Policy Project (Biotic Project), a policy research effort working to identify technically and politically credible answers to issues being raised regarding forestry and land use-based mitigation efforts. This paper is largely based on TAAs work under the Biotic Project.