Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Eliminate the Need to Cut Old Forests: Toronto Star Article

Toronto Star reporter Cameron Smith wrote an article in Saturday's paper revealing how forest companies in Ontario continue to log into intact boreal forests despite a downturn in the forest sector and decreased need for wood. Smith points out that companies are keen to continue expanding into pristine forests to not lose their logging rights to those areas. He makes the intriguing suggestion that the government should encourage companies to collaborate in re-designing the approach to forestry in Ontario - focusing on better management of second-growth forest and leaving old, pristine forests intact.

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

Recommendations are released for the Western Climate Initiative: includes forests

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fourteen developing Nations recieve first World Bank funds for forest protection!

The World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility just announced the fourteen developing countries that will recieve funds to develop their capacity to estimate national carbon stocks and emissions so that they will be ready to participate in a REDD mechanism (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation), which a planned component of the new global climate change agreement expected in Kopenhagen in 2009. REDD will see developing countries receiving money in exchange for lowered emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility also plans to award funds to a smaller group of countries to participate in REDD pilot projects.

The fourteen countries recieving funds are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, Panama, Nepal, Lao PDR, Vietnam.

All nine industrialized countries formally participating in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility took part in the funding decision: Australia, Finland, France (the French Development Agency), Japan, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.

News article

Friday, July 18, 2008

Globe and Mail Editorial calls on all Premiers to meet or exceed McGuinty's boreal protection announcement

Check out this editorial in the Globe and Mail yesterday. It challenges the premiers of the other provinces and territories to 'match or even outdo' Premier McGuinty's announcement that Ontario will protect at least half of its Northern Boreal region. Is this the start of a new relationship between Canada and its wilderness?

Also, in Ontario's announcement today that it was joining the Western Climate Initiative, the boreal protection plan was listed as one of three major actions that Ontario is taking on climate change along with investment in public transit and partnering with Quebec to develop a cap and trade system.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Huge conservation announcement in Ontario is a beacon to governments on how to use forests to mitigate climate change!

The Ontario government accounced today that it would begin a land use planning process to protect more than 225,000 square kilometres of northern boreal forest!

I invite my blog readers to share if they know of a more ambitious conservation commitment anywhere!

The government media release states that "the forests and peat lands in the Far North store about 97 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and absorb around 12.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year," and that "Priority will be given to protect lands with key ecological features such as habitat for endangered species or important carbon sinks."

This is a brilliant beacon to every other government in Canada and the World considering what their approach to using forests to fight climate change should be. Massive-scale protection of carbon rich ecosystems will bring greater climate change mitigation benefits than any tinkering around with faster growing trees and forest offset projects!

Photo credit: CPAWS-Wildlands League

Government of Ontario announcement
YouTube video from Ontario government
Media release from CPAWS-Wildlands League
Media release from SNAP-Quebec

Media coverage:
Globe and Mail article
Globe and Mail editorial
Toronto Star article
Toronto Star article II
Toronto Star article III, from First Nations perspective
Toronto Star editorial
New York Times article

Thursday, July 10, 2008

This is how emissions from Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry fit into Kyoto and the global climate change negotiations

...This is the longest post you will ever see on this blog and it's not for the faint-of-heart!! This post is in response to people looking for an overview explanation of how forests, land use, and land-use change fit into Kyoto and specifically the on-going international negotiations.

It's called "LULUCF" (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry) and that's usually enough to cause people to roll their eyes and tune out... but it's important! Here's two reasons why it matters:
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: LULUCF is one of the major sectors that is included in the Kyoto Protocol; like the building sector, energy sector, waste sector, only different. It is an important political issue within the negotiations and will either contribute to or undermine the integrity of the Kyoto Protocol in the second commitment period (post-2012).
  • Forest conservation: Forest accounting rules at the international level will create incentives for better or worse approaches to forest management, depending on how the rules are designed. For example, mandatory accounting of deforestation creates an international liability associated with this activity and therefore an incentive for conservation (how this works will become more clear as you read on).
Here's a little table of contents for this post:
1. Here's how it works, in a nutshell, or LULUCF accounting
2. Now it gets complicated, or LULUCF rules
3. The current negotiations
4. The negotiating process

1. Here's how it works, in a nutshell:

Accounting for emissions from the LULUCF sector is done differently than for all other sectors.

Step 1:
A country adds up all its emissions from all other sectors covered by Kyoto to come up with a national total to which its binding Kyoto reduction commitment will apply. Canada's national total in 1990 was 596 megatons of CO2/yr. This national total in 1990 is multiplied by the emission reduction commitment to give you the total amount of required emission reductions. Canada's target is - 6%. Six percent of 596 megatons is 36 megatons. Canada is then given an emission allowance of 560 megatons/yr (596 - 36, or 94% of its 1990 emissions) for the commitment period.

Step 2:
A country's emission allowance is then modified by the credits/debits generated by the LULUCF sector. So if Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry hypothetically produced an additional emission of 20MtCO2/yr during the commitment period, 20Mt would be subtracted from Canada's assigned emission allowance. Now Canada would only be allowed to emit 540 MtCO2/yr (560-20) in all the other sectors combined. BUT: Because vegetation and soils can also remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the LULUCF sector could also be a source of credits. So, in another hypothetical scenario, Canada's LULUCF sector might have instead produced a net removal of 20MtCO2/yr. In this case, the 20MtCO2 would be added to Canada's emission allowance and now Canada would be allowed to emit 580MtCO2/yr (560+20) in all the other sectors combined.

But wait - there's an exception here: due to uncertainty during Kyoto negotiations about the scale of credits that might be generated through LULUCF and concerns that countries might develop so many LULUCF credits that they didn't have to significantly reduce their fossil fuel emissions, a cap was placed on this crediting/debiting approach meaning that only a fraction of the emissions/removals can be claimed.

2. Now it gets complicated:
Another way in which the LULUCF sector is treated differently from other sectors is that it doesn't simply involve the simple counting of all emissions and removals to the atmosphere. Due to complexities and uncertainties of counting all carbon fluxes from all lands, only a subset of emissions/removals are accounted for - emissions/removals from certain activities.

The LULUCF sector is broken down into different activities, which are treated differently. All industrialized nations with Kyoto reduction commitments (called Annex-1 countries within the Protocol) must account for emissions from afforestation/reforestation (planting forests) and deforestation. There are several additional LULUCF activities for which accounting is voluntary: forest management, grazing land management, cropland management and revegetation. Can you imagine the problem with voluntary accounting? Countries only choose to account for these activities if they are getting credits. About half of the countries with Kyoto commitments have elected to account for forest management, and hardly any have elected to account for any of the other activities.

3. The Current Negotiations
LULUCF rules are currently being renegotiated for the second commitment period (post-2012). The only certainty so far is that the sector will continue to be available for countries to meet their Kyoto commitments.

In Bonn, countries agreed to a list of options for changing the rules. The list ranges from minimal rule changes needed for legal reasons (e.g. change the reference from 'first commitment period ' to 'second commitment period') (see 3.(a)(i) in the options paper) to substantive changes in rules (see 3.(a)(ii) and (iii) in options paper) to treating the sector like all others and counting all emissions and removals over all lands (see 3.(b) in options paper). This latter approach is called the 'land-based approach'.

My best guess is that the negotiations will probably land somewhere in 3.(a) territory with a small number of important changes.

Here's a summary of where different countries are coming from:
  • Developing countries are resisting major changes to accounting, especially changes that would make it easier for inudstrialized (Annex 1) countries to generate credits.
  • Industrialized (Annex 1) countries for whom this sector is really important (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) are putting forward various proposals to modify the rules to better fit their circumstances and make it easier to generate credits.
  • The EU is generally calling for changes that tighten the rules in this sector.
  • There is some soft interest and support for the land-based approach.
Here's a list of some of the major issues at play in the negotiations:
  • The 'land-based' approach has caused a lot of concern among environmental groups because, although it seems desirable to account for all emissions and removals from all lands, there is concern that inventories are not accurate enough to do this. The result could be accounting for large emissions and removals that are not real and that this would undermine the Kyoto Protocol. It probably doesn't make sense to embrace this direction at this time.
  • There appears to be support for the idea of changing the way emissions/removals are accounted for. Right now there's a mix of two approaches: forest management, afforestation/reforestation/deforestation employ an accounting approach that involves looking at the total emissions in the commitment period and using this to generate the LULUCF credits/debits. If you're keen on jargon, this is called gross-net accounting. The second approach compares emissions in the commitment period to a 'business-as-usual' level of emissions, for example emissions in the base year (1990). This is called net-net accounting. This approach is employed for cropland management, grazing land management and revegetation (and for all other sectors). On the surface this idea sounds good, but because LULUCF emissions/removals simply generate credits/debits rather than being included in a country's total emissions, a country would never be required to reduce baseline emissions (you have to trust me on this one, or ask me to explain further). Gross-net accounting implies that no emissions from that activity are acceptable since all of the emissions in the commitment period from that activity count as a debit. This move to net-net accounting should probably only happen if this problem with net-net accounting can be fixed (e.g. through an emission reduction target for the LULUCF sector).
  • A number of Annex 1 countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) are calling for carbon stored in harvested wood products to be accounted for. This means that countries would be able to generate credits for the carbon that is in furniture, houses, paper, etc. Right now 'forest carbon' can only be accounted when it is in forests, so cutting forests to make paper and wood products is treated as an emission. Regardless of whether or not this sounds like a good idea to you, there is a lot of carbon in wood products and starting to account for it under Kyoto would mean two things: first, countries would suddenly have credits for doing nothing different because this carbon pool is not currently being accounted for; second, it would remove the current incentive to keep carbon in the forests because this is the only place forest carbon is currently accounted for. I believe that we should not account for harvested wood products for these two reasons.
  • One of the options is making all accounting mandatory. This is important and I can't see any real downsides because voluntary accounting ensures that it will only ever take place when credits are generated, thereby leaving emissions unaccounted for.
  • It has been proposed that Annex 1 countries should be required to account for emissions from forest and wetland degradation. The principle is that all major sources of emissions should be accounted for, and this makes a lot of sense. Emissions from forest degradation are common in Canada - they result when primary, natural forests are logged, thereby converting them to managed forests that store less carbon.
  • New Zealand has asked for a number of special accounting rules that would make it easier to generate and keep credits. I believe these should be resisted because they avoid accounting emissions now for removals that will happen in the future.
  • The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol both focus on addressing climate change resulting from human activity. Accounting for emissions/removals from forests presents a unique challenge because there are a lot of natural forces at play that affect the overall carbon balance (e.g. natural fires result in emissions and a warming climate can result in increased growth (removals)). The idea of separating emissions/removals resulting from natural effects from those resulting directly from human activities is called 'factoring out'. Until now, factoring out has been elusive. The IPCC concluded in 2002 that the state of science at the time was insufficient to develop practical and scientifically sound approaches to factoring out. How to factor out is a major discussion point again in the current negotiations. One option is to continue using caps; another is to move to net-net accounting (reasoning that some natural effects would exist in the baseline as well as in the commitment period so these would cancel out); another is using 'discount factors' that would limit emissions/removals from this sector; Canada has brought forward another approach that uses forest and climate models to predict what emissions would be under business-as-usual management so that the effects of new management activities can be measured. Factoring out is important but the right approach probably needs to be simple, transparent, and should be conservative (err on the side of not creating false credits).
4. The negotiating process

Countries will meet again in Accra, Ghana from August 21-27 to negotiate based on the list of options. Conclusions are meant to be made in Ghana, but it is unclear just how conclusive they will be. My guess is that there will be some narrowing of the list in Ghana and then a timetable and work plan will be agreed upon to finish the negotiations (the next major meeting will be in Poland in December). Countries have been emphasizing that the LULUCF rules need to be settled before they negotiate new emission reduction targets so they can know what to expect from this sector.

If you have any questions on any of this, please don't hesitate to email me. If you think I've got something wrong, let me know and I will fix it.

Welcome to the world of LULUCF!


Background: I haven't included a lot citations in here because I have gathered the background knowledge from a lot of different places, but Volume 10, Issue 4, Pages 269-394 (June 2007) of Environmental Science and Policy, Options for including agriculture and forestry activities in a post-2012 international climate agreement is an excellent source to which I could probably trace all of the background material.

Options: The LULCUF accounting options being negotiated are in the options paper discussed above.

Country positions and options:
- Presentations made at an in-session workshop in Bangkok in March
- Official country submissions: Batch 1: Belarus, China, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Saudi Arabia, EU, Sri Lanka, Batch 2: Canada and Japan, Batch 3: Australia, Batch 4: Tuvalu.
- Presentations made at an informal dialogue in Iceland in April

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

This is why forest protection needs to be part of the climate change solution!

Some people are inherently suspicious about protecting or planting forests as a strategy to slow the pace of climate change... "Fossil fuel emissions have got us into this trouble, we need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to get us out!"

Although it is true that a massive global scaling up of efforts to deeply cut fossil fuel emissions is needed, fossil fuel emissions have not been the only cause of our current climate change crisis: A full third of the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution came from carbon losses from soils and vegetation - deforestation, wetland draining, forest degradation, agriculture, etc. (136 Pg C from soils and vegetation; 270 Pg C from fossil fuels).

Industrialization has indeed been the root of our climate change crisis, but not only through fossil fuels! We need to protect and restore forests and other carbon-rich ecosystems (like peatlands) if we are going to solve this global crisis!

For the source of 'one-third' statistic used in this post, check out a presentation given by Daniel Martino from the IPCC earlier this year in Iceland (slide 16).

What do you think about this fact? Are you convinced that forest protection and restoration should be part of the fight against global climate change?