Friday, December 12, 2008
And the talks over the last year have seen constructive proposals from the likes of China, South Africa, Mexico, Norway.... but the major industrialized nations of the World have not been acting with the required resolve or urgency to put this new agreement in place.
On the positive side, the bare minimum outcome needed here was achieved: the Chairs of the working groups have a mandate to formally kick off negotiations on legal text on the new agreement in 2009. So despite the delay, it is still possible AND CRITICALLY IMPORTANT, to reach a deal by Copenhagen next December.
I'm coming home now to enjoy the snow!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Early drafts of the decision included recognition of the interests and rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (plural). The final draft only makes reference to participation of Indigenous People (singular).
Despite the efforts of environmental groups and some Parties, the importance of protecting biodiversity was also kept out of the decision.
Here is the intervention read in plenary by the Climate Action Network:
A year has passed since Bali, and what has been done?
What progress has been made on Indigenous and community rights?
How will REDD protect biodiversity?
What emissions will be counted and what rules will be applied?
The two SBSTA workshops coming into this meeting made real progress on methodological issues, which you intended to carry further here.
The CBD AHTEG advice on biodiversity was received and welcomed by some Parties.
Indigenous peoples asked to be heard, so when the Secretariat invited them, they came expecting to have a voice.
Instead, all reference to their rights and interests has been deleted.
Your negotiating text does not even refer to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And the removal of that “S” was critical.
A failure of political will has also seen the results of the workshops and the advice of the CBD ANTEG languish here.
We remind you all: the preservation of biodiversity is not a co-benefit; it is fundamental to the success and goals of REDD.
Our task here today is to protect the biological heritage of our earth and the rights and interests of all of its peoples. SBSTA has failed this crucial imperative.
It is our hope that ministers will now pick up what SBSTA has dropped.
Monday, December 8, 2008
We should see in the morning whether SBSTA has come to a strong conclusion on the focus and methodological approach to REDD.
What we're watching for in the middle of the week is the conclusion of the discussions here on the Kyoto Protocol. The big question is whether Parties will include strong language on the range of emission reductions for Annex 1 Parties (industrialized nations minus the U.S., which didn't ratify Kyoto). The goal is strong language committing Parties to a 25-40% reduction range by 2020.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
...I'm not sure that title makes any sense, but I've been working for 19 hours straight now, my eyes are bleary and my mind is not quite working right... it's a UN climate change negotiation!
What did I do today?
I woke up at 5:45 am to take the bus and tram into the conference centre to attend the daily briefing that the Canadian Climate Change Ambassador and Head of the Canadian delegation offers every day to us civil society folks.
I ran off to a meeting of the political coordination group of the Climate Action Network.
From there I rushed (a few minutes late) to a meeting of my Working Group on LULUCF.
From there off to a plenary meeting on the means for industrialized nations to reach their Kyoto targets.
Then what....? A blur that included a working lunch, a CAN daily meeting, a session of working to agree on some forest accounting rules to put forward here to countries, sent emails, read emails, had hallway conversations, had a working dinner, met with a country delegate and planned a meeting for tomorrow, went looking for someone I was supposed to meet and checked and wrote emails while waiting for my coat at the coat check... got outside, bought more time for my phone, went back inside to prepare tomorrow's meeting...
...took a crazy cab ride home at 11pm!
...then I started working some more on the options paper we want to put out tomorrow and discuss in our meetings. And it's 12:45am and I'm waiting for some comments to come in so I can finish the thing off, go to bed, and sleep for 3 hours and 45 minutes until the whole routine starts over again!!
I'll post our options paper tomorrow so you can see the fruits of our labour (it's only two pages!!)
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Negotiators on LULUCF met in an informal closed session yesterday and decided to meet only one more time on Saturday during these talks. The outcome of this meeting will be a decision to call on Parties for submissions early in the new year and then introduce draft legal text by the Chair of the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol at the March meeting in Bonn. Our working group just finished developing some new ideas for accounting and we will now shop it around the various interested countries.
The first meeting on REDD has just started. ENGOs are hoping for a strong outcome here in Poznan: a decision text on everything but policies and incentives, which is appropriately figured into the negotiations on country commitments next year.
The most exciting news from yesterday was that Brazil announced its Climate Change Plan. The most prominent feature of the plan is a voluntary national target to reduce Amazon deforestation. There are questions being asked about whether or not the targets are strong enough, and about what Brazil will do about increasing emissions in other sectors, but the assumption of a national target by a developing country is a significant milestone in these negotiations.
Photo: Outside of the main Plenary Hall
Video: Click here for a BBC Clip about Amazon deforestation
Monday, December 1, 2008
It was a cool and damp morning in Poznan as the Annual Conference of the Parties (COP14) got under way today. Frost tipped the grass and by the time I approached the conference centre, breathing felt almost like drinking.
The first day of these meetings is always is an interesting contrast of excitement and dullness, anticipation and resignation.
- Meeting dear climate change buddies - this work breeds close connections.
- Ten thousand delegates converging together to solve one of the Worlds' greatest threats
- The opening speeches are seldom stirring or inspiring, recycling established positions and offering platitudes
- The possibility that these talks could deliver some real outcomes such as a deal on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in developing countries (REDD) - a concrete activity for developing countries to help combat climate change while saving biodiversity and forest-dependent communities.
- To the slow pace of the talks and the low expecations expressed by the Parties to the Convention.
Monday, November 24, 2008
My Australian friends (who have been fearing the climate at the upcoming climate change meeting in Poland) might read the title of this blog post as a hopeful indication that I am about to offer them tips on how to survive a couple of weeks on the cusp of a northern winter...
...truth be told I am very pleased to be spending the first two weeks of December in a Decembery place.
But I am warming up for Poland by putting the finishing touches on policy proposals and trying to coordinate with an increasing number of people on an increasing number of things that seem increasingly urgent as the deadline of my flight comes this Friday.
We are not sure what to expect from negotiations on land use, land use change and forestry, but it appears that, as in many other areas, Parties will be focused on taking stock and making a work plan to resolve outstanding issues in the new year. It seems that Poznan may be the last place to put new, big ideas on the table.
Monday, November 17, 2008
A scientific article raised quite a stir last year when the media coverage in response to it suggested that boreal forests might actually contribute to global warming because the cooling effects of carbon sequestration were overwhelmed by the effect of the heat absorbed by their dark green colour.
The result didn't seem to ring true with people.
Over the past few months, new scientific papers have lent more support to the idea that boreal forests are in fact coolers of the climate. First, a article in the September issue of Nature observed that old growth forests continue to sequester carbon much longer than is conventionally thought, increasing the cooling contribution from sequestration. Now, a new study published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society suggests that forests also release chemicals called terpenes that contribute to cloud formation, which in turn cool the planet by reflecting the sun's rays. The authors call into question the previous conclusion that dark forests would, on balance, result in atmospheric warming because they ignored factors such as cloud formation. (What the heck is terpene?)
So... a point for the northern-forests-as-climate-shield team (not sure what the score is currently). It's worth remembering though, that none of this scientific debate ever questions the fact that natural, unlogged forests store more carbon than commercial forests... forest protection remains an important climate change mitigation strategy.
Thanks to Carbon Positive, where you can find the original story that inspired this post and to Sean Cadman for passing it on to me.
Photo credit: Terpenes are a major component of conifer resin, shown in this picture from Wikipedia.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In a previous blog post, I argued that our carbon policy objective for forests should be to maximize forest carbon as this sector’s contribution to an overall climate change mitigation plan. I argued that the pulp and paper industry is in the business of transforming forest carbon into wood product carbon and that one of the impacts of this enterprise is depleted forest carbon stocks. A value placed on forest carbon stocks would create incentives for forest managers to redress this impact while they continue to extract products from the forest.
This article illustrates my point: Managing to maximize forest carbon results in decreased harvest levels, longer harvest rotation ages and older forests. On the other hand, maximizing total carbon stocks (forest carbon + product carbon) diminishes this effect: Clearcutting increases by 40%; rotation ages decrease (though are still substantially longer than business as usual); harvest levels increase 173% compared to scenarios that maximize forest carbon.
What is the dividend for this massively increased pressure on the forest? A five percent increase in total carbon stocks. FIVE percent. And where is most of this carbon? By the end of the 200 year modeling window, 80% of it is in landfills. Even considering the benefits of abated emissions coming from substituting wood for more energy-intensive materials the carbon dividend of this strategy is only six percent.
Finally, these carbon benefits reflect the long-term result after 100 and 200 years of modeling. What if we acknowledge the importance of emission reductions now, when action on climate change is so urgent? Modeling the impact of a four percent discount, the authors find that no harvesting would take place when maximizing forest carbon and 67% less harvest would occur when maximizing total carbon (forest carbon + product carbon).
There are two take home messages for me in this paper:
- Mixing product carbon into markets and policies could result in a significant increase in pressure on natural forests for very little carbon dividend.
- There is a potential to distort climate policies to support increased wood production even if it results in increased emissions in the short-term when we most badly need mitigation.
Hennigar, C.R., D.A. MacLean and L.J. Amos-Binks. A novel approach to optimize management strategies for carbon stored in both forests and wood products.
This study was carried out in a hypothetical 30,000 ha Acadian forest in
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The New Brunswick released a policy on Forest Biomass Harvesting on Crown lands this past Monday.
It would allow the harvest of all above ground biomass (residual tree tops, branches, foliage, non-merchantable woody stems of trees and shrubs, pre-existing dead woody material and flail chipping residue) within harvest blocks approved in a forest management plan. Leaving foliage on the site is identified as a best management practice.
The only restriction on harvesting above ground biomass is that it can only occur on sites where "minimal site nutrient loss resulting from the harvest of forest biomass," is expected.
There are no restrictions on biomass harvest based on the impacts on habitat and the policy acknowledges that, "forest stands harvested for bioenergy purposes may not provide the full suite of ecological values identified in the document, "The New Brunswick Public Forest - Our Shared Future."
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I am always taking the position that we should not include carbon stored in wood products as contributing to our Kyoto obligations or within forest carbon offsets and I am often challenged by others for this position. Their challenge is usually along the lines of, "But carbon in wood products is real, why not count what the atmosphere sees?" Here are some comments I made last week in D.C. to the Forest Carbon Standards Committee established by the AF&PA laying out my argument. It boils down to this: ask not just what the atmosphere sees, ask what outcome you wish to achieve!
The wood and paper industry is in the business of supplying society with products of great value to society. One of the environmental costs of this activity is that managed forests are maintained at a younger age and their carbon stocks at a lower level than would naturally occur.
Sufficient incentive already exists from the market place for the wood and paper industry to transform trees into products. What the industry needs is a financial incentive to reduce the impact of this activity on forest carbon stocks, while continuing to meet the societal product demand.
In developing carbon market incentives for forest management, we should therefore focus on increasing forest carbon stocks, not harvested wood product stocks. There is no inherent benefit of transferring carbon from the forest pool to the product pool. In fact, there are ecological costs to this transformation.
The main greenhouse gas benefit of supplying society with wood products is that they have lower embodied emissions than alternatives, especially in construction: the production of wood results in far fewer emissions than the production of steel or concrete. Placing a price on carbon will create an incentive to switch from concrete and steel to wood because of this lower emission profile. This incentive will exist without counting the carbon stored in the wood itself. This incentive should increase the demand for wood.
An increased demand for wood should create increased pressure on our forest that would exacerbate the lowering of forest carbon stocks. Let us use the forest carbon offset as a mechanism to reward forest managers and landowners that are able to meet this demand while also maintaining forest carbon stocks high or even increasing them.
These two forces pulling in different directions (price on carbon demanding more wood and an offset system rewarding more carbon in the forest) could help us find an environmentally optimal solution. Including carbon in harvested wood products in forest offset systems will reduce the impact of incentives to maintain or increase forest carbon stocks.
Implementing this approach is not a question of 'excluding' carbon in wood products from accounting; it is simply a question of making forest carbon stocks the focus of accounting and incentives.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
1. The forest industry in Canada has made a lot of progress using wood processing waste as an alternative source of energy in their mills, and this is a good thing.
2. In accounting for emissions and setting energy policy, it is important to take account of the emissions that do result in the forest as a result of biomass harvest. For example, the harvesting of trees reduces forest carbon stocks and this reduced carbon stock should be recorded as an emission when it occurs. It is true that these forests and much of the carbon will grow back over time, but not accounting for the emissions when they occur could lead to inferior policy choices that fail to optimize emission reductions in the near-term. What I was responding to was the indication from policy initiatives that, rather than accounting for these emissions, they would *assume* carbon neutrality (simply because forest carbon grows back over the long-term).
To be clear: I have no problem with the approach of accounting for all emissions at the time of forest harvest.
I would like to thank the readers of my blog that have asked me for clarification on this point. I hope this helps!
If you are interested to read more about CPAWS' thoughts on biomass and woody bioenergy, you can check out a factsheet online.
Monday, October 27, 2008
It's official: A Forest Carbon Standards Committee convened in Washington DC last week has agreed to take on the task of developing a "bi-national" forest carbon offset protocol that could be taken 'off-the-shelf' by any jurisdiction in the US or Canada that is going to include forest offsets in a regulated carbon market.
The protocol will be an ANSI (American National Standards Initiative) standard, and the secretariat is asking whether it could also be accredited as a CSA (Canadian Standards Association) standard. An important question is how Canadians and Canadian organizations will feel about this process setting a Canadian standard because it is membership on the committee is largely American.
The big question on my mind is: is this the right forum to develop the vision for Canadian forest carbon offsets?
The committee agreed to focus its work in four topic areas:
- Baselines and additionality
- Permanence and leakage
- Quantification, verification, measurement and monitoring
Watch here for updates and comments on the process.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Let me say that again with more gravitas: the American Forest and Paper Association is proposing that this committee should develop *the* standard for how forest offsets are treated across the US and Canada. It wants this standard to be of 'compliance quality' so that it could be picked up by regional/provincial/state and federal regulatory bodies in both countries. In other words: there's a new, big game in town.
How big and how important will depend on who participates, whether agreement can be reached and how good the standards are that result. Either way, it's time to roll up the sleeves because answers on how to do forest offsets (good or bad) are starting to flow: the Canadian federal system will soon be accepting proposals to develop forest offsets; the Western Climate Initiative has established a sub-committee that will review forest offset protocols; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the California Climate Action Registry have proposed new rules for forest offsets, and this AF&PA process will try to develop a 'bin-national' standard that could influence or replace all these others.
I'll write more after the meeting tomorrow.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I attended a phone call organized by Pew Envirionment Group on Friday to hear Brendan Mackey present the findings from Green Carbon: The role of natural forests in carbon storage. The report is a publication of the Australian National University that argues the importance of protecting primary forests to climate change mitigation and also demonstrates how conventional approaches to measuring carbon stocks in forests greatly underestimate the amount of carbon stored in primary forests.
He calls this carbon "green carbon," to contrast with the "brown carbon" stored in forests that are managed commercially by the forest industry for timber production. Dr. Mackay pointed out that much of the World's remaining primary forests are in industrialized countries like Canada and Russia, yet the current UN climate change negotiations' special discussion on preventing forest degradation only applies to the tropics and developing countries.
Actually, forest degradation in industrialized countries is also on the radar but in a more less visible way and is threatened to just be subsumed under a broader discussion of carbon stocks in managed forests. We could fail to see and appreciate the green carbon for all the brown.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I had been trying to come up with a test to ensure biodiversity benefits. We liked this idea because it was simple and consistent with an existing federal statute. I'm curious if anyone else has any thoughts on this idea or any information on other approaches being promoted elsewhere.
I know of a couple of other possible approaches:
1. The Forestry Protocol under the California Climate Change Action Registry only allows conservation, conservation-based forestry and restoration as eligible projects. This approach ensures biodiversity benefits by restricting project types.
2. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance also propose a species at risk test in their standard for assessing land-based carbon offset projects, but they also have a more general requirement of net positive biodiversity impacts. It seemed to me that the transaction costs of this approach might be too high.... would it be feasible to measure biodiversity benefits broadly?
...does anyone have any experience with this approach or knowledge of how this has been implemented?
3. In a draft forest management protocol developed for use (but not approved) within the Alberta Offset System, it was required that offset project activities not adversely affect biodiversity targets developed by forest managers. Certification to third-party forest management certification systems was also suggested.
4. The Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol require an evaluation of environmental impacts and an environmental assessment may be required.
What do you think? It would be great to hear your feedback. Thanks.
The 60-day public comment period just passed
on the draft Guide for Protocol Developers under Canada's Offset System for Greenhouse Gases.
What's a protocol? An offset protocol is the document that tells someone interested in creating an offset project what he/she/it will have to measure the emission reduction and register it for sale within the offset system. A protocol developer could be an individual, institution, organization, business or government.
A 'guide' for protocol developers essentially tells us the level of rigor that will be expected of protocol developers and therefore gives us an indication of how rigorous and credible the whole system will be.
I wrote and submitted some comments from CPAWS and David Suzuki Foundation on the draft guide. You can check them out on the CPAWS website. Here are the major points we made in our submission:
- Emission reductions must be real and clearly additional to reductions that would have occurred without the purchase of offsets.
- Permanent credits must only be given for permanent emission reductions; for impermanent emission reductions, such as those associated with forestry and land use, credits should be temporary or deeply discounted.
- Limits must be placed on regulatory compliance through the use of offsets. The use of credits from forestry and land use activities could be further limited if there is less confidence about their performance or concern about the effect of forestry offsets on carbon price.
- All offsets should adhere to a principle of net environmental benefit. Protocols should require the measurement of impacts on species identified under the federal Species at Risk Act. This requirement should at least apply to forest protocols, which could be dealing with large ecosystems and could have significant biodiversity impacts.
- Forest projects should focus on conservation activities because these deliver the greatest short-term emission reductions and also the greatest environmental co-benefits. In fact, we encourage the Government of Canada to prioritize the development of a forest conservation offset, rather than a forestry offset.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I asked a couple of questions of the WCI partners:
1. The final recommendations say that each partner can decide whether or not biomass sources of energy are carbon neutral. I asked whether the WCI was going to do anything to ensure that these decisions took full account of actual emissions, warning that a carbon neutrality assumption for energy from burning forest biomass could mask actual emissions. The partners essentially answered that the jurisdictions have very different approaches to assessing carbon neutrality and WCI would not interfere. The answer indicated to me a lack of willingness to police this issue.
2. The final recommendations include a 49% limit on the extent to which a partner's emission reduction commitment can be met through offsets. Have the partners considered whether a separate (smaller) limit might be placed on the use of forest offsets to deal with concerns about permanence and emission allowance prices. The partners responded that they have not yet decided to place any additional limits on offset categories, leaving me with the impression that this discussion could still be had.
Many other questions were asked including a couple of more about offsets:
3. How would the 49% limit placed on partners be transferred to companies? The partners answered that they really hadn't figured this out yet.
4. What will be the process for developing offset protocols? The partners answered that a process in 2009 would be designed that would allow all partners to participate in the development of protocols. They said that they would make use of existing protocols as appropriate and perhaps adapt them for use in the WCI region.
The final WCI recommendations are online.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
This is a guest post from Nicolas Mainville, Director of Conservation, CPAWS Quebec:
Following the launch of its new program for woody bioenergy in July, the
Overview of the program
- The program was mainly put forward to accelerate conversion strategies of heavy fuel oil heating systems towards woody biomass (150 M$ is allocated over 3 years to the conversion strategy included in the Quebec Climate Change Mitigation Plan), but the new 125MW call shows that Quebec wants more than that and is ready to actively develop this sector.
- The program specifically allocates new volumes of woody biomass on Crown lands
- These volumes come from:
- not-harvested allocated wood,
- Not allocated left-overs (branches, leaves)… roots and stumps are not included in the program
- From naturally perturbed areas (wild fire, insects infestation, etc)
- “Back log” or temporary permits
- Anybody can apply to the program
- The best projects will be elected depending on:
- Environmental “gains”
- Support from local communities and regional authorities
- Investment proposed by the contractor
- It’s a 5 year program, that apparently will be included in the Forest Act once ongoing projects show their profitability
Goals of the Woody bioenergy Program:
- Create jobs and stimulate the regional economies
’s dependence on foreign oil Quebec
- Promote new forest management strategies and improve the health of deciduous forests
- The harvest must not interfere with soil productivity or biodiversity
- There is an “open door” for post-harvest fertilization
However, no guidelines, thresholds or monitoring is planned or described in this program. It is also ambiguous how it is going to cost the harvester and how much the government is planning to invest. The calls for submissions are ongoing but the industry is already complaining about the short amount of time dedicated to the program (5y). This program is shown as one of the best solutions to tackle climate change…many of the arguments are based on the false claim that the bioenergy sector is “carbon-neutral”.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The British Columbia government released a booklet yesterday called, "Tackle Climate Change, Use Wood." I think the title was meant to catch people's attention. The booklet caught my attention because of its unbalanced portrayal of logging as a climate change solution. The booklet talks about how wood stores carbon and leaves the impression that the best climate change strategy is to log old forests, use the wood and plant new trees. There is no mention of the fact that logging in natural forests actually results in net emissions because the old forests with big trees are replaced with younger forests with smaller ones. In fact, there's no mention of emissions from forest management activities at all. The booklet also makes the sweeping claim that 'bioenergy has no net greenhouse gas emissions.' Over the time scale that matters this is simply not true. It could take a hundred years or more for trees to grow back all the carbon that is removed and burned for bioenergy.
A number of ENGOs reacted yesterday with a media release. They concluded, "Forests and the forest industry do have a key role to play in B.C.'s climate change strategy; we feel it is critical to have an open discussion about the responsible ways of developing a forest-based climate
The B.C. Government announcement with a link to the booklet.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The most important feature of the recommendations for forests is the failure of the WCI to prevent the Partners from falsely claiming carbon neutrality for the burning of biomass. The draft recommendations released in the Summer had suggested a blanket exemption of emissions from biofuels but this experienced push back from environmental groups. Rather than clearly requiring that all emissions from biomass be counted, WCI has recommended that the decision is left up to each jurisdiction which fuels will be considered carbon neutral (recommendations 1.3, 1.4, 1.5).
Proponents of producing bioenergy from wood say that the use of biomass does not cause emissions because trees will grow back and remove all the carbon back out of atmosphere as they grow. The problem is that it can take more than a hundred years for a natural forest to take the carbon back from the atmosphere, if it ever does. In the meantime, switching to woody bioenergy would actually increase emissions in the short-term when emission reductions are most urgently needed.
CPAWS issued a media release on this issue Wednesday morning.
As I discussed in an earlier post on the draft recommendations, there are three other areas of the recommendations that are relevant to forests, none of which have changed substantially:
- Afforestation, forest management, forest preservation/conservation and forest products are being considered as eligible offset activities. The main difference in the final recommendations is that offsets are limited to 49% of a jurisdiction's compliance with the total emission reduction commitment (recommendation 9).
- A minimum percentage of the value of each Partner’s allowance budget may be dedicated to promoting emission reductions and sequestration in agriculture and forestry as uncapped sectors (other possible uses of these funds are also mentioned) (recommendation 8.2)
- The recommendations acknowledge the role of other greenhouse-gas reducing policies to achieve their 2020 reduction goal (recommendation 5.1). Ontario's Summer announcement to protect 225,000 km2 of northern boreal forest (roughly the size of the United Kingdom) in part to protect carbon stores is an example of such a complementary policy
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sorry the blog has been a bit quiet recently... there hasn't been too much to report in the last week on forests and climate change.
I did attend a very exciting CPAWS planning session last week where we talked about our efforts to conserve the boreal forest and highlighted new opportunities and threats.
The biggest threat we identified was the movement to use our natural forests as a source of energy: harvesting and burning woody biomass to create electricity. There is apparently a push to convince British Columbia to salvage log as much of the pine forests affected by the beetle outbreak as possible for this purpose. The government is right now considering whether or not to grant long-term licences for this activity.
There are a couple of problems with this idea:
- Burning woody biomass to produce energy actually releases significant CO2 emissions. This is because wood is a low-grade fuel within only 35% the energy intensity of diesel. People argue that woody bioenergy is green because the wood will grow back, sucking the CO2 back out of the atmoshphere. But that could take over a hundred years. So though the long-term outlook might not be so bleak, we would be quadrupling greenhouse gas emissions exactly when it is most urgent to reduce them.
- Harvesting forests for energy would have far greater ecological impacts than conventional harvesting for wood products. Because the profit margins are so low, companies would likely remove all biomass from the site leaving areas that make clearcuts look like sensitve logging.
Any information anyone can offer on developments in this area or experiences from other jursidictions would be helpful. Thanks.
For more information, see the CPAWS factsheet on woody bioenergy.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Update on the recent meeting on including harvested wood products within forest carbon accounting in Geneva
Post by Trevor Hesselink, Director Forests Program CPAWS Wildlands League:
Thanks for this blogging opportunity Chris, though I must admit that my head is still reeling… two days of intense discussion with individuals from every dimension of the Harvested Wood Products (HWPs) universe! Held here in
While many of the individuals present had apparently been working on this subject for quite some time, it was also clear that many of the dimensions of the arena, including the mitigation potential, ancillary implications, accounting framework, and data challenges all had significant gradients of information and opinion present. Even the definition of the term “Harvested Wood Products” was still a subject of discussion during the final workshop plenary. All of this left me with the distinct feeling that the subject remains a technical, economic, and therefore political hot-potato with a shrinking window to obtain a consensus position to feed into the next accounting period.
I have included some more detailed stream-of-consciousness thoughts on some of the subjects that are most recoverable from those reeling thoughts…
There appeared to be reasonable consensus at the workshop that the carbon stock change effects of HWPs is relatively minor compared to other carbon stock changes, and the substitution effects of HWPs for products with heavier carbon footprints. Part of this common understanding was an acknowledgement that HWP stocks will eventually reach a steady state. I found it interesting that several participants (and at least one presenter) were still calling HWPs a “sink” implying that the wood is continuing to actually sequester carbon as opposed to simply delaying its release to atmosphere. Perhaps the storage and sequestration aspects need to be discussed separately, but the fact that wood only sequesters when it attached to a living tree apparently needs more common appreciation.
Stocks in landfill received some level of discussion and seemed to have a variety of relevance to the subject of HWPs. Whether HWP stocks in landfills is in or out of scope seems to remain somewhat contested, though many of the system boundaries shared in the workshop excluded this fate. While some of the participants and a couple of presenters did refer to storage effects of this pool, most seemed to focus on products in-use, acknowledging at different times that landfills fell into the waste sector arena, conflicted with waste diversion goals (such as reducing reliance upon disposable one-use products).
There seemed to be consensus that substitution effects, where HWPs replace more energy intensive material production or fossil fuel use, are considered more important than stock change effects.
Much of the dialogue revolved around structural materials substitution, most often from a marketing / sector competitiveness perspective. This left me with the distinct impression that the mitigation outcome was cemented (probably wrong term here!) in the minds of many present who were more narrowly focusing on how to provide incentives as a competitive advantage to their sector or country and were less interested in discussing such things as perverse incentives and exacerbation of sustainability concerns.
The one substitution issue that I was hoping to hear more on was the subject of biomass energy and the roles of various accounting systems to provide incentive for their use or abuse. In fact, there seemed to be variability in whether or not participants included biofuels in their own definitions of HWPs. There was some general agreement in the “cascade” effect (with some situational exception) where longer-lived products precede biofuels in priority. Unfortunately, discussions did not extend to how this would be achieved in practice.
There is an awkward proviso attached to the HWP term, often directly expressed by speakers at the workshop but often without further focus on the implications. That proviso was “sourced from sustainably managed forests” and it was appended to the HWP term with marked regularity as I sat through the first day of the workshop. Though I doubt that “HWPSFSMF” will catch on as a helpful acronym in these ongoing discussions, the implied prerequisite condition dramatically underlined for me the priority of getting the rules right for SFM. While I spent considerable effort in positioning this in my own presentation on day two, the subject did not meet with substantial overt interest for the parties present leaving me to further believe that the mitigation “brand,” and international trade were also underlying agendas present.
On further reflection, it seems to me that the huge variety in forest context is possibly a factor in confusing common understanding of mitigation priorities. For example, the differences between owner-operators of 1-50ha forests in Europe, managed for centuries, and extensive primary growth conversion of massive public commons in
I only hope that the SFM side of the discussions is concurrently receiving attention and resources commensurate with its relative mitigation potential, and that it is further along than the HWPs discussion.
HWPs will continue to be produced and substitute for other products, particularly fossil fuels given the default accounting system in place. Therefore we will continue to accrue much of the potential benefit this activity can produce without any additional international incentives. In the absence of this, national scale tools abound and are arguably more likely to achieve the desired effect, particularly on the materials substitution incentive front. The one major downside that I can see by not rethinking the default system, is that the current incentive to utilize whatever fibre possible for biofuel will persist with very real concerns for sustainability in most international contexts.
There seemed to be frustration, in particular from the workshop participants from countries with more assured SFM, that more concerted international consensus is not apparent. I would suggest that the consensus would be there if universally high confidence in SFM existed. In the interim, the path forward would appear to be in securing that confidence and applying ourselves diligently to the significant mitigation opportunities in tackling forest deforestation and degradation as the critical first step that also eclipses the entire HWP potential for mitigation.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I've been wondering lately whether forest offests are a fait accompli or whether there is still going to be some serious discussion about whether they will be a good tool for climate change protection and conservation. I'm still wondering...
But I also put together some information that you might find interesting. In researching a background document for a meeting I'm participating in this week, I pulled together a summary of where things are at with regulated offsets in various policy initiatives in Canada (including the Western Climate Initiative, which includes western States). Here it is:
- Alberta: Alberta has a approved protocol for afforestation that is eligible for companies to meet emission compliance requirements. A forest management 'offset quantification protocol' was being developed by private sector proponents but has been stalled. The great flaw of the Alberta offset system is that it has no additionality test for offsets.
- British Columbia: British Columbia released a ‘policy intentions paper’ for “Emission Offsets Regulations under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act," which commits to a carbon neutral public sector. Offsets would be available to public sector agencies. No signal has yet been given about forest offsets. This intentions paper specifically addresses additionality tests and requires replacement of credits that are 'reversed' (i.e. not permanent). These two factors puts BC's 'offset intentions' ahead of the rest in this list.
- Ontario: In September 2007, the Ontario government announced that it would be starting pilot projects for agricultural and forest offsets. However, a recent follow-up announcement involved only agricultural offsets.
- Western Climate Initiative (Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Utah, Washington): The WCI released their draft recommendations this Summer and listed afforestation, forest management, forest preservation/conservation and forest products in a list of priority areas to be considered for offset project types (Rec 9.3). Offset credits would be available to offset up to 10% emissions allocations, which could be as much as 50% as a company's emission reduction target. The recommendations make it clear that being a priority does not mean that these project types are guaranteed to be in the system
- Canadian federal government: In August, the Canadian government released a draft guide for [offset] protocol developers. The draft guide for protocol developers includes fast track approvals for afforestation and forests (forest management, long-lived products, forest conservation). The fast-track process is based on using existing protocols that have been approved in other jurisdictions. The basis for the fast-track forest management protocol is the California Climate Action Registry's Forest Project Protocol 2.1 (forest management), which allows the following activities: conservaton-based forest management, restoration and conservation.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Canada's National Newspaper, the Globe and Mail wrote an editorial today responding to this report and a recent announcement by Abitibi Bowater to certify three of its forests to the Forest Stewardship Council standard. The message of the Globe and Mail editorial: Trees are better alive than dead!
Media release of the report
Globe and mail editorial
Friday, September 5, 2008
To make up for it, here's a surprisingly wierd but potentially effective ad for our common cause.
Thanks to "Viktor" for the tip!
Friday, August 29, 2008
In the last day of the conference, many delegates were offering positive feedback on the CAN discussion paper CAN released at the conference. I look forward to some more constructive input and dialogue in the months to come.
On a sad note, I have just learned that Bernard Schlamadinger, the leading thinker on LULUCF has just passed away. My heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends. I knew Bernhard for only a short time, but he was a friendly and excited man who mentored and encouraged me. I will miss him.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In subtle moves, great meaning: Canada and Russia resist move to tie rule changes to bigger emission reductions
Such is the nature of diplomacy that you don’t always notice when something significant is happening. In the closing session of negotiations on rule changes to the rules for carbon accounting for land use, land use change and forestry, a paragraph got deleted at the request of Russia and Canada.
The first sign that this move was significant was the fact that everyone else, including Australia, New Zealand, and Japan who often negotiate common positions with Canada and Russia wanted to keep it.
The paragraph said that, in making changes to LULUCF rules, Parties should consider the implications of these changes for the scale of emission reductions required to be achieved by industrialized (Annex-1) countries. Another way of putting this is that changes in the rules should be designed to help meet ambitious emission reductions, e.g. by requiring LULUCF emissions to decrease.
Even though I've been assured this isn't the case, it is hard not to conclude that the purpose of deleting this text was to avoid committing that the negotiation of new rules would be focused on achieving greater emission reductions.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Most options remain open but there's something big that negotiators are missing. Simply put, some of the rule changes being contemplated could end up meaning that Parties are not responsible for business-as-usual emissions and will only be punished or rewarded for changes to the way forests are managed now. This is a problem in places like Canada where current forest management means logging in primary forests and big losses of carbon.
The Climate Action Network put out a discussion paper today with a number of ideas of how to deal with issues that are coming up in the negotiations - it's a pretty exciting milestone and a useful contribution.
I'm off now to eat some Red Red (beans with fried plantain) with some enviro-friends of mine.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I also had a fascinating conversation in my broken French with a gentleman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who has come to advocate for a mechanism that involves civil society and communities to help decide how money flowing to tropical countries to reduce deforestation is spent. He feared that without such a mechanism money would not be spent on reducing deforestation and would not help the people who live in the forest.
The industrialized country forestry talks continued behind closed doors yesterday but we have learned that negotiations may be moving more quickly than we had expected.
The Chairs of the meeting are going to present draft text on Monday that may narrow and clarify the options Parties are considering. Monday will be a busy day of trying to find out what's going on (more closed door meetings!) and talking to negotiators about what we think needs to happen to protect environmental integrity!
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Sorry if this post is too technical, but it actually give you a taste of what things are like here in Ghana, and all climate change talks. It's not welcoming to the new-comer because discussions are very detailed and very technical. I'm hoping that I am finding a middle ground here to spread the understanding to people who aren't directly engaged, but let me know if I am failing!
...Along with several colleagues here in Accra, I met yesterday with members of the Canadian delegation to discuss an approach that they have brought to the table (though they are careful to say that they are not yet formally proposing this approach).
The focus of the approach is to 'factor out' emissions from the managed forest that are beyond human control. Basically what this means is that Canada wants to make sure that Parties are neither penalized nor rewarded for emissions and removals of carbon from forests that result from natural effects like forest fires. It's a technical approach that involves using forest management and forest carbon models to separate out the effects of new management activities. This is especially important to Canada because Canada's managed forest has recently become a soure of emissions due to fires and the forest damage caused by the pine beetle outbreak in BC.
We communicated that we have several concerns with the approach:
1. The way the approach is designed, it would excuse Parties from being accountable for current emissions from forest management; the approach uses current emissions as the starting point and just rewards or punishes based on changes in emissions from this starting point. We don't like this because we think Parties must be obliged to reduce these emissions, like they are for all other sectors.
2. Factoring out means that you could get credits for the effects of carbon-positive management activities even if the managed forest as a whole is a major source of emissions due to fires, insect damage, etc. We don't think that Parties should be able to offset reductions in fossil fuel emissions with forest credits if the atmosphere is actually seeing a net increase in emissions.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Accra Climate Change Talks have begun! They opened with a colourful display of music and dance followed by introductory speeches from dignitgaries. The day closed with a lively cocktail party with much dancing and friendly conversation.
The first day of the talks has also seen a flurry of inputs and discussions about land use, land use change and forestry. It looks like by the end of the week of talks Parties will agree on a more defined set of options for how the rules should change.
Submissions have been made by several countries and a first meeting has been held between the Parties at which Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the Eu made presentations. These formal talks will continue today and Monday, followed by informal (and closed) meetings of the Parties.
So far, the most vocal countries have focused on changing the system so that it provides greater 'incentives' for forest management practices that will mitigate climate change. Translation: they want it to be easier to generate credits as incentive and reward for action. The main problem I see with this focus is that it leads Parties away from a mandatory requirement to reduce emissions in this sector and towards a system where they can only be rewarded for incremental improvements and not punished for status quo emissions.
Here's a summary of what we've heard from Parties so far:
Canada's submission focuses on a proposed methodology to 'factor out' natural effects on carbon fluxes from human-caused effects.
New Zealand's submission is focused on making sure that the rules provide flexibility in land use and don't penalize or provide disincentives for harvesting plantation forests.
Iceland's submission is focused on describing the mitigation potential of wetland restoration and avoided wetland degradation.
Japan's submission is focused on how to retain incentives for forest management through continuity with the current rules.
The EU's submission is an interesting assessment of the variability and uncertainties associated with LULUCF accounting and also an assessment of the result of various options proposed in Bonn.
The Secretariat of the UNFCCC also presented a Technical Report that assessed the implications of the various options identified in Bonn. Interestingly, most of the options assessed would result in an increase in the emissions budget of industrialized Parties with reduction commitments and therefore also an increase in the supply of tradeable credits (which would decrease supply and price, reducing the effectiveness of the carbon market to spurr innovation and greater emission reductions).
The talks can be followed by Live webcast.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I'm just back from vacation (sorry about the lull in posting) and off tomorrow to Ghana for the UN Climate Change Talks. I am flying from Montreal to Ghana via New York, and in case you're interested the trip works out to the equivalent of 5.1 tons of CO2 emissions! I had better do some good work there (in addition to buying carbon offsets).
How to account for emissions and removals of CO2 from the atmosphere from forests, forest management and deforestation will be big issues on the agenda in Ghana. Interestingly, it's all going to be done behind closed doors: a look at the overview agenda reveals that all the work is done in 'informal groups,' to which observers (like me) are not invited. This means that enviros will be working behind the scenes and meeting with country negotiators to find out what's going on and to put forward our proposals for how to get the World to reduce emissions from this sector.
The focus of the discussions for industrialized countries will be the options for rule changes developed in Bonn.
Stay tuned to this blog because I will be writing with daily updates of what is happening at the meeting, which runs from August 21 (my birthday) until August 27.
Friday, August 8, 2008
The report includes recommendations for carbon pricing, public engagement, transportation, buildings, energy, industry, communities, agriculture, and waste. Rather than making policy recommendations for the forest sector, the CAT recommended an additional process for this:
"Include forests, land use, the forest-product sector, bioenergy and other renewable wood-derived bio-products in the government’s climate action strategy. This should be done with the involvement of stakeholders in a full assessment of mitigation options in terms of greenhouse gas benefits, biodiversity values and other co-benefits."
It's interesting to me that the discussion of how to include forests within cap-and-trade frameworks and offset systems is going relatively slowly. It appears that regulators are not quite sure yet how to deal with the issue. Ontario's Northern Boreal protection announcement remains the most substantive policy approach in the country.
Climate Action Team report to the Premier
Media release from the Climate Action Team
More information on the Climate Change Secretariat's website
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The Australian National University (ANU) has just released a report showing that natural Eucalypt forests in Tasmania store three times more carbon than estimated by the Australian government and by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Previous estimates of carbon storage were based on measurements in plantation forests, rather than in natural forests. Because of this under-estimate, the emissions resulting when natural forests are replaced by plantations would also be greatly under-estimated (see last post).
The report also introduces an interesting classification of carbon into different colours:
Green carbon = carbon stored in natural, resilient forests
Brown carbon = carbon stored in plantations and industrial forests
Grey carbon = carbon in fossil fuels
Blue carbon = carbon stored in oceans
Report author Brendan Mackay suggests that the under-estimate of carbon in natural forests is probably a global problem. Does anyone have any insight on how forest carbon is estimated in Canada and elsewhere and whether carbon stocks in natural forests everywhere are likely to be under-estimated?
ANU's Green Carbon report
Report synopsis by The Wilderness Society, Australia
Photo credit: The Wilderness Society
Friday, August 1, 2008
No big news on forests and climate change on this long weekend Friday afternoon, but here is a link to a short video done by The Wilderness Society (TWS) in Australia showing shocking forestry approaches there.
Tasmania allows the clearcutting and burning of native forests that TWS believes to be the most carbon-rich on the planet so that they can be replaced with plantation seedlings - mostly for wood chips!
Because of loopholes in the current rules governing forest carbon accounting under the Kyoto Protocol, this counts as a zero-emission activity because:
1) The new plantation is defined as "forest," so this is not considered deforestation (an activity that must be accounted for under Kyoto);
2) Accounting for carbon losses from forest management is voluntary, and Australia has elected not to account for it (so has Canada)!
Photo credit: The Wilderness Society
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In the Ogoki Forest, 250 km northeast of Thunder Bay, Smith estimates the cost of new logging in intact forests is 1.03 metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years that would otherwise not have occurred in the 10,000 km2 area if companies sustainably managed second-growth forests instead.
Thanks to CPAWS-Wildlands League for alerting me to this story.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
The seven states and four provinces that are partners to the Western Climate Initiative released their recommendations of the cap-and-trade design today.
The recommendations include three possible ways for including forests:
1. Afforestation, forest management, forest preservation/conservation and forest products are included in a list of priority areas to be considered for offset project types. Offset credits would be available to offset up to 10% emissions allocations, which could be as much as 50% as a company's emission reduction target. The recommendations make it clear that being a priority does not mean that these project types are guaranteed to be in the system (Recommendation 9.3).
2. A minimum percentage of the value of each Partner’s allowance budget may be dedicated to promoting emission recuctions and sequestration in agriculture and forestry as uncapped sectors (other possible uses of these funds are also mentioned) (Recommendation 8.2).
3. The recommendations acknowledge the role of other greenhouse-gas reducing policies to achieve their 2020 reduction goal. Ontario's recent announcement to protect 225,000 km2 of northern boreal forest (roughly the size of the United Kingom) in part to protect carbon stores is an example of such a complementary policy (Recommendation 5.1).
Western Climate Initiative
Seattle PI article
Globe and Mail article