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.


realtor from Vancouver said...

Scary indeed, with each developed country setting it's own standards what is the purpose of these talks then? I don't see some of the developed countries setting the bars that high. I think more radical changes are needed and not this. Copenhagen will be a fiasco...

Take care, Jay

Chris Henschel said...

Thanks for your comment Jay. I agree. And the terrible hypocrisy is that these same countries are demanding a lot more accountability from developing countries for the mechanism under development to reduce tropical deforestation.

There really is an attitude of 'we are developed so you can trust us to do the right thing.' Rest assured that same attitude doesn't get applied by developed to developing countries.

tjtreehugger said...

so if this plays out Canada or other developed country could set a baseline emission level of carbon from forests that was artificially high and then increase real rates of logging, deforestation etc. up to that baseline with no requirement to count the real emission increases as debits?

Chris Henschel said...
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Chris Henschel said...

Thanks for your question treehugger.

Basically, yes.

Except: deforestation has a very specific meaning in this framework. It refers to the permanent loss of forest to other land uses like farms or settlements. Accounting for this is mandatory, so this would be captured.

But emissions from inceases in clearcutting for wood or bioenergy could (and probably will) be hidden this way.

I have spoken directly and personally with country representatives who plan to do this. Some specific examples: Norway, New Zealand, Austria, Finland.

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Tommy said...

Copenhagen is looking more and more like a potentially disastrous catastrophe should the US and Chinese Administrations fail to commit to making significant changes. None of us want it to fail, but even the organisers are now beginning to thing of contingencies...