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);
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.