Monday, November 30, 2009

What does bioenergy forest harvesting look like to you?

The following is a guest blog post from Jamie Simpson, Ecology Action Centre

Forest biomass is being touted as a renewable and green energy source in Nova Scotia. It's also being championed by some as a way to help meet the province's renewable energy target of 25% by 2015.

But how green is it? I recently toured a biomass harvest carried out by Northern Pulp in central Nova Scotia. It was the worst 'harvesting' I've seen in my time as a forester, and a blatant transgression of the NS Watercourse and Wildlife Habitat Protection Regulations. Is this the future of "green" energy in Nova Scotia?

I have posted photos of the harvest site so you can see for yourself.

Northern Pulp is an affiliate of Atlas Holdings LLC and Blue Wolf Capital Management LLC. (Atlas Holdings LLC • One Sound Shore Drive, Suite 203 • Greenwich, CT, USA 06830; Phone: (203) 622-9138 • Fax: (203) 622-0151). The Chief Operating Officer for Northern Pulp is Mr. Wayne Gosse, tel: 902 752 9167. On March 26th, 2009, the NS Government loaned Northern Pulp $15 million, and called it a good investment.

Northern Pulp has a license to 80,000 hectares of Nova Scotia's Crown land, and has an agreement to manage Neenah Paper's 195,000 hectares of private land. The harvest in these photos was carried out on Neenah's private land.

This operation by Northern Pulp is certified as "green" by SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). The 2008 SFI audit report stated that "The audit found that Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation’s SFM system: (1) was in full conformance with the requirements of the ISO 14001 and SFI standards included within the scope of the audit, except where noted otherwise in this report...". The minor issues the audit team had with Northern Pulp had nothing to do with poor harvesting practices. The report does note, however, that "Northern Pulp has significantly increased the amount of on-site chipping that it undertakes."

Please feel free to pass these photos on; they are an embarrassment to Nova Scotia, but need to be widely seen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Which Countries Will Make Forests Count in Copenhagen??

The environmental community is challenging developed countries to make forests count in Copenhagen. I brought a Make Forests Count pledge to the recent UN Climate Talks in Barcelona. I approached many delegates from developed countries asking to put their name to this statement:

"I support environmental integrity in Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) accounting and believe that industrialized countries need to show leadership to make this happen. In particular, I support the use of a historical reference level to measure actual changes in emissions/removals from forest management."

The countries I approached were, in no particular order: Portugal, UK, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, USA, Norway. Although some countries expressed their sympathy with the cause, only one county's delegates would stick their necks out and sign the pledge: France.

Starting this Friday, everyone will have to come clean. Developed countries have been asked to bring their proposed reference levels forward for negotiation by November 27. Although many countries probably won't make the deadline, you will be able to see them start to trickle in on this day. They will be posted on the UN Climate Change Secretariat's webpage on LULUCF.

Which countries will make forests count by proposing a historical reference level that would measure actual changes in emissions? Which countries will inflate their reference levels to cover up plans to increase forest harvest and emissions? Which countries will try to sweep emissions from logging in primary forests under the rug by seeking to avoid accountability for 'business as usual practices? We should know in about a week's time.

Watch here for updates.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Environmental Integrity Pushed Further Out of Reach from Copenhagen?

The UN Barcelona Climate Talks have changed the whole game of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) for the worse - in particular the rules on whether and how developed countries will have to account for emissions from forest management.

The session started with a draft text from Bangkok that is very far from agreement. I think it is fair to say that there are four major areas that are most central to a new set of rules:
  • The basic form of accounting: it seems almost certain now to be going towards the use of some kind of reference level to measure changes in emissions - this is one of the two biggest issues: how do you set the reference level?
  • A limit on the amount of credits (from reducing emissions / increasing removals) that can be used towards meeting a country's national target - this is the other big issue;
  • Whether and how emissions from natural disturbances can be excluded from accounting - this is a prerequisite to several countries agreeing to account for forest management, principally Canada, Australia, and Russia;
  • Whether 'activities' such as 'forest management,' 'deforestation,' and 'cropland management' remain the basis for accounting or whether there is a switch to account for emissions/removals from all managed lands - this is seen as all as the proper goal of accounting but seems to still be largely on the table at this point as a negotiating tool (most believe it is too early to make this transition due to data limitations);
It's the negotiations on the first point that took a wild turn at these talks - there weren't really any. Countries had been saying that these major issues would need to be resolved at Barcelona so they could bring their estimates of emissions and credits/debits to the Copenhagen talks. Instead of settling the crucial issue of how to set a reference level, all countries have been invited to use whatever approach they like and bring the number in December!

The details can be found on page 9 of the new draft text (paragraph 11). Whether the reference level is based on just historical data, or also on a suite of other considerations (including 'projected forest management activities,' which everyone understands can mean an increase in harvest levels). Also an option is creating a big 'band' of non-accounting where countries can hide emissions (paragraph 11 ter). Also an option is jigging the reference level so it delivers the same amount of credits as the existing rules, which all regard as flawed. It's a mess.

The bigger mess is still to come in Copenhagen when every developed country brings a reference level based on any combination of these considerations, using different methodologies and providing whatever data they like to support them. The negotiation has now deteriorated from a discussion of principles to a haggling over opaque numbers.

Step two of this process will likely be negotiating country-specific limits to accompany each reference level. The talk from both developed and developing countries seems to be converging on the idea that developed countries tell the world how many credits they hope to get from forest management and get capped there - that way there are no surprises.

Let me translate that for you in a scary way: Each developed country tells you what its baseline will be; and each developed country tells you how many credits it's going to get. You should see that defining both of these things makes whatever outcome you desire a certainty. No debits and credits for everyone!! The fears of developing countries are assuaged because they know exactly what to expect and can adjust their demands for overall reduction targets accordingly.

...but environmental integrity in accounting for emissions from forest management will have been lost.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

From Bad to Worse

There was a major development today at the UN Barcelona Climate Change Talks on land use, land-use change and forestry: developed countries are being invited to bring whatever reference level they like to Copenhagen for consideration.

This is a major failing of the process and of the developed countries that should have been showing leadership. The current draft rules for setting reference levels include several loopholes tailored to the national circumstances of many developed countries and designed to allow the hiding of emissions.

Rather than fixing the text, the UN process has now invited the same Parties to use any of these loopholes they like. As a result, we will have to try to win environmental integrity through a dissection and fight over the reference levels of over 30 countries.

Unless things change quickly tomorrow, our hopes for a system with environmental integrity will lie in a staggering analytical capacity, hard campaigning, and deft negotiating from developing countries to push the genie back into the bottle in Copenhagen after seeing the numbers and strike a deal for a system with integrity.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This is what happens when you stick people in a corner to talk to themselves

I was having a conversation today with an industrialized country delegate who was apologizing for not being a forester and therefore not really getting all of the intricacies and complexities and rationales of forest management carbon accounting.

I replied, "So, if you're not a forester, doesn't it seem strange to you that the rules have to be designed to ensure there is no negative impact on the forest sector for cutting trees? Why should the forest sector be the only one who should choose whether or not to reduce emissions rather than be forced to?"

The answer was telling and was something that I have often lamented: it's a structural problem resulting from the special status that this sector has - from the beginning it was an add-on with its own set of rules. What that has meant in practice is most decision-makers don't get it or try to, so it is delegated to the technical experts. What do you expect to happen when you ask a bunch of foresters to come up with rules for the forest sector? Or as this person put it, "If you stick a bunch of people in the corner of the room to talk to each other they will come up with funny ideas."

The ideas in this case are shameful: a set of draft rules that openly excuses all responsibility for emissions. Of all other sectors in this process we are demanding transformative change. In the forest sector we are demanding nothing. In fact we are doing worse than this - we are telling countries that if they like they can make things worse.

We are demanding emission reductions of 40% or more from industrialized countries. What are we demanding of the forest sectors in these countries? At most we are asking them to continue business-as-usual. If they do better we give them credits.

The only hope at this point is that developing countries negotiate hard on this. They are currently asking for the same thing we are: accountability for changes in emissions from 1990. I'm hoping we will see a new statement from them in the next couple of days.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Which loophole is the smallest?

It was a discouraging first day for me at the UN Barcelona Climate Change Talks (it was only one day - it already feels like a week!?).

I spent the day with pledges in the inside pocket of my suit, ever ready to take the name and signature of a country representative that was ready to commit to making forests count: agree that we should account for actual changes in emissions resulting from logging. Coming across people willing to commit to this idea was the exception, finding people to explain their preferred method for avoiding this full accounting was the norm.

I contributed to an article (LULUCF Follies)in the Climate Action Network's daily newsletter, ECO, describing the cancer that is taking over the negotiations; here's an excerpt: "It’s a little hard to believe, but the positions taken by many Annex 1 negotiators [industrialized countries] effectively define their preferred management choices as carbon-neutral, regardless of what emissions actually are. In this fantasy world, you incur no debits for a ‘business-as-usual’ policy of cutting forests at age 50 even if most of the national forest estate is now 49 years old and you’re about to cut it all down. Nor do you receive debits for stepping up forest harvest to produce bioenergy. But the atmosphere sees increased emissions from both these changes!”

I'm not sure what is more troubling: the number of these alarming proposals or the number of people that don't seem alarmed by them. One negotiator observed that this is perfectly okay as long as you set the national emission reduction target with the knowledge that you are excluding these emissions. Another hopefully offered that I should consider which of the many proposed loopholes being brought forward is the smallest, and side with that one.

With champions from industrialized countries increasingly hard to find, could it be that the developing world could save the day here? They are now engaging in negotiations and presenting a concern for environmental integrity and there is certainly a limit to their patience for the indulgences of industrialized countries. But where will that limit be found? It seems likely that a Barcelona outcome will be the presentation of a choice to be made in Copenhagen at the political level.

...that is if there is an outcome from Barcelona on forests: today's talks were cancelled because the Africa Group has apparently said that it would boycott all further sessions until progress is made on an emission reduction target for industrialized countries.