Friday, October 23, 2009

EU Solidifying Role as Bad Guy in UN Forest Climate Talks

For those of us trying to make sure countries have to account for emissions from cutting forests in the Copenhagen climate agreement, the European Union has been the cause of quite a bit of concern and consternation over the past year. There is a split between those countries who think any change in emissions should be counted for (e.g. France, Germany, U.K.) and those that don't (e.g. Finland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Austria). Thus, the EU has been divided and unable to take a strong position.

Earlier this week the EU Council met to define its position for the Copenhagen Climate Talks. Bad news. Those hoping that the EU could still be a progressive voice on this issue have to redouble their efforts. The EU has decided it must be conscious that some countries may need flexibility in determining the baseline against which emissions in the commitment period will be determined - translation: the EU is opening the door for countries who want to increase their emissions but erase them from the books through creative accounting.

The offending text is pasted below:
33. RECOGNIZES that future accounting rules for forest management should provide an adequate balance between further incentives for sequestration, for use of wood products and for biomass energy; STRESSES the need for future accounting rules to secure that the environmental integrity of a Copenhagen agreement is preserved; ACKNOWLEDGES that there are still difficulties associated with methodologies for measuring and predicting LULUCF GHG flows with a high degree of accuracy; WELCOMES further discussions with other Parties on accounting rules for forest management where the EU is open to discuss schemes based on the use of a reference level (bar), which includes an environmentally robust interval (band) while being CONSCIOUS that national circumstances, such as age class legacy effects, may require some flexibility for countries regarding the choice of reference level including allowing for historic data or robust and transparent projections open to independent review and verification; the use of gross-net accounting with a discount could also be considered in these discussions; CONSIDERS that accounting rules need to deal with emissions and removals associated with extreme events (force majeure) to reduce the risk that Parties cannot comply with their mitigation objectives because of such events. CONSIDERS that subject to such flexibility being provided for, accounting for forest management should become mandatory for all Parties taking on quantified commitments in a Copenhagen agreement.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Draft Rules on Forestry and Land Use

A new draft text on rules for accounting for emissions from forestry and land use has come out of the Bangkok Climate Change Talks. The changes in the text are mostly the result of work that has been done between developed countries on the rule changes they want to see.

It's not pretty.

On the main issue of how to measure performance, the text is still overflowing with the pet loopholes of each country, engineered to erase any emissions that the atmosphere sees from logging.

It appears that there are special LULUCF glasses that negotiators wear to make this distorted stuff seem reasonable. Here is an example of the kind of things you hear in the hallways to rationalize it:
  • But if we account for the emissions from logging, there will be no incentive for bioenergy (because countries like to falsely assume that it is carbon neutral);
  • We shouldn't account for emissions from logging because we do sustainable forest management (and that's relevant how?)!;
  • We can't account for changes in emissions because we plan on increasing logging levels!;\
There are a couple of other significant changes to the text:
  • Developed countries have mostly agreed how they would account for carbon stored in wood products. I've never felt this was a good idea, but the text does have some reasonable safeguards in it - but not yet good enough!
  • Australia, the EU and Canada have come up with a combined proposal for how to remove emissions from fires and other natural disturbances from the accounts. They are still in disagreement about whether to exclude all emissions or only the biggest, extraordinary events -- significantly there is still a huge loophole in this idea: there is no accountability for countries if they salvage log these areas - a significant extra source of emissions!
A number of countries have said that they want the rules settled by Barcelona (the meeting in November) so their implications on country emission reduction targets can be clear in time for the final deal in Copenhagen. I hope they get their wish.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

China and the Group of 77 Developing Countries Draw a Line in the Sand

The doors opened up today on the forestry and land use negotiations at the Bangkok Climate Change Talks! For the first time at this conference, observers were able to hear the positions of delegates and for the first time this week we heard the position from China and the Group of 77 Developing Countries.

After nearly two years of developed countries discussing different options for rule changes for this sector, and not getting much farther than more clearly articulating the options that suit each country best, G77 and China said enough is enough and drew a line in the sand:
  • Negotiations on this must be done by Barcelona (the next session in November);
  • All accounting should be mandatory;
  • All developed countries should use the same simple rules to account for forest; management: compare emissions in the commitment period with emissions in 1990;
  • Put a cap on credits from the entire sector (cropland management, grazing land management, revegetation, forest management, afforestation, reforestation, deforestation);
Developing countries sent the signal that they are through listening to specific proposals for adjustments to meet the circumstances of each country so they can generate credits from this sector, and I think it's the perfect time for this message.

If I were to change the proposal I'd say that a base period could be used, rather than a hard base year that could create strange and unfair results due to the annual variability in the forest management sector. I'd also try to do something to fix the problem of extraordinary natural disturbances that create a compliance risk for countries. But all in all, this statement was exactly what the negotiations needed!

You can check out my live tweets as the meeting unfolded by following biocarbonman on twitter!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Storm brewing in forestry and land use negotiations

We've been getting little peeks and rumours about the revised draft text on Land use, land-use change and forestry that developed countries are working on. It may come out tomorrow or maybe Thursday. Sounds like developed countries have figured out amongst themselves how they want to account for wood stored in harvested wood products and are making progress on how to remove the effects of big natural disturbances like fires from the forest carbon accounts.

The biggest and most troubling news is that they are compiling a new option on how to account for changes in forest management emissions. From what I hear it sounds like all the loopholes any country could want cooked up into a couple of paragraphs. It will be interesting to see how China and other developing countries respond to this game.

You can read an article I wrote about one of these loopholes in Climate Action Network's ECO Newsletter yesterday; it's called Show Us the Emissions!

You can also watch today's media conference by CAN. From 10:10 - 15:50, Jeff Fiedler of The Nature Conservancy talks about this issue as well.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Backroom LULUCF Negotiations Continue

We woke up in Bangkok this morning to oppressive heat and the expectation of a new draft text agreement on the rules for forestry and land use under a revised Kyoto Protocol...but that didn't happen!

Parties continue behind closed doors to come up with the next version. We've been hearing that there is convergence around a number of the key issues but the most important question remains: what are the baselines against which performance is judged. Some developed countries are still trying to create what I think amounts to a meaningless accounting framework: they will tell the world what they expect their emissions to be from forest management in the future and only be punished if they perform worse than this. Countries should take responsibility for any increase in emissions from past levels. What is this whole process about if not about reducing emissions from the past?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Update from UN Bangkok Forestry and Land Use Negotiations

We just had a briefing with the Chair and vice-Chair of the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol and the co-chairs of the negotiations on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).

The formal work on LULUCF is focusing on two tasks:
  • Trying to reduce the number of options in the draft text of the agreement on accounting rules;
  • Countries are presenting forest data to explain their national circumstances and why they are interested in the options they are supporting.
Parallel to this, countries that have put forward specific proposals on key issues are meeting together to see if they can come to an agreement between them; this agreement would then be forwarded to the larger group. The issues are: reference levels (against which performance will be compared); harvested wood products; the impact of natural disturbances; cross-cutting issues and "other accounting options."

The big problem for those trying to observe and hold this process accountable is that ALL of these negotiations are being held behind closed doors.

Rather than behind closed doors, some were making their case very clearly out front of the main entrance of the conference centre: Protect Forests and Indigenous Peoples' Rights! The protest was organized by the International Youth Delegation.

Photo credit:
Joshua Kahn Russell, Rainforest Action Network