Thursday, February 26, 2009

Defining Crazy LULUCF Terms: Gross-net and Net-net

Anyone who has tried to enter and understand the world of international forest carbon accounting has come across the terms 'gross-net' and 'net-net'. Many have been totally confused; others have thought they understood but don't. Here is the simplest explanation you'll find (let's hope I'm right):

In these terms are two word positions, for example in 'gross-net', 'gross' is in the first position and 'net' in the second. Knowing what these two positions refer to is the key to understanding these two terms.

The second position refers to whether total carbon fluxes are measured, i.e. both emissions and removals. If only emissions were measured, it would be 'gross' accounting. Since in both cases, emissions and removals in the commitment period are added together to get a total carbon flux, 'net' appears in the second position of both terms.

The first position refers to whether or not the carbon flux in the commitment period is compared to the carbon flux in a base year. In this case, 'gross' means the total carbon flux is used and it is not compared to the base year carbon flux; 'net' means that the carbon flux in the commitment period is compared to the carbon flux in the base year - the base year carbon flux is subtracted from the carbon flux in the commitment period to give you a net change.


'Gross-net' = total carbon flux in the commitment period.

'Net-net' = carbon flux in the commitment period minus carbon flux in the base year.

Simple, right? :)

Is Wood Good? Is it as good as you say it is?

A number of wood products industry associations have just launched a new website extolling the virtues of Canadian wood as enviromentally responsible.

I suppose it's inevitable that, as an environmentalist, there would be claims on such a marketing site that I find problematic. Afterall, my blog almost certainly contains some claims that others would not agree with... probably including my posts on wood products.

But when I come across a site like this I lament the inefficiency of positional arguments and wish instead that we could get together and hash out our perceptions, understandings and evidence so we could at least both be communicating balanced information, and hopefully whatever policies or actions we think should result.

Here are a couple of examples of views from the site that conflict with mine:

Wood products sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted during harvesting, transportation, and manufacturing. I believe this to be untrue. My understanding is that, if you take carbon stored in wood products into account, it reduces the recorded emission, but it is still a net emission.

As a proud leader in forest management... Canada has the most protected forest in the world. This statistic is misleading because Canada is the second largest country in the world, so it's easy to have more land than anyone else in any category of land use. Canada also has more forest than most other countries. Less than 10 percent of Canada is protected.

What would happen if both sides were to sit down and agree to a bunch of balanced facts and characterizations about the state of Canada's forests and how forestry affects our climate. I think the problems with our forests and the benefits of wood are both real enough that a broadly supported portrayal would still argue for outcomes both sides are trying to achieve. This probably applies more broadly as well, and not just to Canada.

Monday, February 23, 2009

And now things get serious... your submissions please!

2009 is the year of the Copenhagen agreement; the year Parties to the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) are expected to come to a new global agreement. That means things are getting serious.

Parties were called upon in Poznan to make their first formal submissions on land use, land-use change and forestry by February 15. You should soon be able to see submissions being put up on the website (you can already see the submissions made by Parties last year). Using all the submissions and discussions to date, the Chair of the negotiations will present the first draft of legal text for LULUCF at the up-coming meeting this March in Bonn. Translation: things are getting serious and we should see ourselves starting to converge on what the new rules for forest and land use will be. At stake are fundamental questions such as which emissions will be included?; will accounting be mandatory?; how will emissions from natural disturbances be dealt with?

I have been working since last December to coordinate a submission from the International Climate Action Network, which we finalized and submitted to the Climate Change Secretariat over the weekend. I am very pleased with what CAN has accomplished in this document - I think there are lot of interesting and substantive ideas and recommendations Parties to consider.

For me, a few points rise to the top:
  • Parties should be induced to base their mitigation approaches on the forest landscape context - forest protection should be the activity of choice in largely intact forest landscapes.
  • It must be mandatory to account for emissions from forest and peatland degradation and these can be added as new activities under the current LULUCF framework. Forest degradation could simply be defined as 'forestry in primary forests' and 'forest conversion to plantations.'
  • Accounting rules for LULUCF must be settled and their implications on National accounts be made clear before new National targets for emission reductions are negotiated. Reductions in emissions should be expected from LULUCF and National targets should be raised to incorporate the anticipated credits from LULUCF.
You can read the whole CAN submission online.

Photo credit: Drained Finnish mire from Suomen Iuonnonsuojeluliito

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ontario Releases Discussion Paper on A Greenhouse Gas Cap-and-Trade System

I guess I was snoozing because I was alerted to the existence of this discussion paper by a CBC Radio journalist!

In it the Ontario government puts forward its thoughts on the cap-and-trade system it plans to develop by 2010 and then integrate with other systems. The document reads like its a good time to provide the government with reasoned views because a lot of issues are still unresolved, such as the auctioning of emission allowances.

The paper says that the system *may* include provision for the use of offsets and refers to the categories being considered within the Western Climate Initiative (agriculture, forestry, waste management).

The most interesting and welcome ingredient of the offset section is a clear condition that valued ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat and protecting watersheds must be assured. I have been advancing a similar position to anyone who will listen (and those that won't), that there must be a biodiversity screen to make sure offsets have positive biodiversity benefits.

The discussion paper is posted for 35 days of comment on Ontario's Environmental Registry (ending March 3, 2009).

- Environmental Registry Posting
- Discussion Paper