Friday, August 29, 2008

Accra Climate Change Talks Wrap Up

The Accra Climate Change Talks wrapped up Thursday afternoon. The forestry negotiations had finished the day before with a set of four options for rule changes that will be further discussed in Poznan in December. Parties will also be making submissions before this, offering views and information on these options. I will write a follow-up blog with some thoughts of my own.

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

Psst... psst...

The secret closed door negotiations on land use, land use change and forestry (LUULCF) continue here in Accra, though we have gained access to draft text that was proposed today in the meeting, which lays out all of the options that Parties would like to send forward to the big Conference of the Parties in Poland this December (this year's 'Bali').

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

My Kind of Climate Change Talks

I left the main conference building yesterday to go look in on a side event that was being held in... the neighbouring soccer stadium! This is my kind of climate change talks! I must admit to stopping for a bit to watch the game between the under 20 Accra team and a team from Nigeria. Accra won 1-0 (Accra in red and blue)!

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

Canada's contribution to the forestry discussions in Accra

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

Forest Negotiations Underway in Ghana

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

Climate Change Talks Kick Off This Week in Ghana: Forests on the Agenda

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

No clear direction on forests from Climate Action Team recommendations in British Columbia

British Columbia's Climate Action Team has just released its report to the Premier on policies that can be used to meet the province's greenhouse gas reduction target of 33% from 2007 levels by 2020.

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

New Scientific Report Suggests Emissions from Logging Worse Than Previously Thought

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

Reuters article

Photo credit: The Wilderness Society

Friday, August 1, 2008

Forest Degradation in Tasmania, Australia

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