Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Consensus View on Forests, Peatlands and Climate

This month the Forestry Chronicle printed the article Maintaining the role of Canada's forests and peatlands in climate regulation. The article is exciting for two reasons. First, it lays out a clear policy blueprint for how forests and peatlands shoudl be managed in the context of climate change and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, it puts to rest a very unhelpful dynamic that emerged in the pages of the very same journal - two years ago researchers from the Ontario Forest Research Institute wrote a flaming piece of rhetoric assailing the environmental community's assertions that forests should be protected to help fight climate change.

This new article presents the consensus findings of a two-day workshop in Ottawa that brought together government scientists, university academics and ENGO policy experts to develop management recommendations to maintain the role of Canada's forests and peatlands in climate regulation.

Here are the recommended management actions:
  • Reduce deforestation and increase afforestation
  • Avoid logging of natural forests
  • Employ forest management practices that enhance carbon storage:
    • 1. reduce soil disturbance and maintain coarse woody debris
    • 2. silvicultural activities to increase productivity and accelerate regeneration
    • 3. extend rotation periods
  • Employ forest sector practices to enhance carbon storage and minimize greenhouse gas emissions:
    • 1. capture methane emissions from forest products at landfills
    • 2. increase recycling and switch production to longer lived forest products
    • 3. use energy in wood waste for power production
  • Minimize the extraction of peat soils
  • Minimize soil disturbance
    • 1. minimize ground disturbance in areas with saturated soils
    • 2. avoid disturbance to permafrost
  • Reduce the adverse climate impacts of fire and insect disturbances
    • 1. suppress fire and insect events where appropriate in the managed forest
    • 2. restore the natural resilience of forest to disturbance
    • 3. use salvage logging where appropriate to reduce harvest of undisturbed forest
The participants in the workshop were Mathew Carlson (Canadian Boreal Initiative), Jing Chen (University of Toronto), Stewart Elgie (University of Ottawa), Chris Henschel (CPAWS), Werner Kurz (Canadian Forest SerAlvaro Montenegro (University of Victoria), Nigel Roulet (McGill University), Neal Scott (Queen's University), Charles Tarnocai (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and Jeff Wells (International Boreal Conservation Campaign).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Political Heat Not Reaching Forestry Negotiators

The political heat was turned on the logging loophole at the UN Climate Talks this week in Bonn, but those negotiating the loophole appeared unfazed.

The negotiations were framed with a statement by the Chair that forestry rules should be developed that strengthen ambition. As mentioned in my previous post, presentation after presentation at a Monday workshop on countries' targets showed that they are doing the opposite. These presentations drew attention to the logging loophole and showed that all the loopholes taken together mean that developed countries could actually increase their emissions under their 'reduction' pledges made in Copenhagen. John Vidal of the Guardian wrote on the farce these loopholes are making of rich countries' Copenhagen pledges.

The forestry negotiators showed no sign of this heat after they went back behind closed doors. Some new draft texts came out this morning and nothing has really changed. I believe that this is because, with so many countries concerned primarily with the different 'national circumstances' of their forestry sectors, no one is sure what the political solution actually is. This gives the negotiators of a lot of room.

But it is clear to me that they won't change direction until they are told to by their political bosses. These bosses should be sensitive to the revelation that rich countries are playing a dangerous game with the future of the planet, pretending to reduce emissions when they are actually planning the exact opposite.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Minding the Accounting Gap in Bonn

I am once again in Bonn at a UN Climate Conference, struggling alongside my colleagues to make forests in developed countries part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The good news is that the issue has been given some good exposure. The International Climate Action Network was invited to present its views at a special session on forest management accounting before the start of this week’s meeting. I gave CAN’s presentation, which clearly laid out the 460 Mt CO2 ‘accounting gap’ resulting from the proposed rules, which would mean that developed countries could increase their emissions relative to historical levels and not have to account or be penalized for it. The presentation also compares this proposal with other accounting options on the table.

With the exception of a proposal from the island state of Tuvalu to account for emissions changes in the future compared with emissions in 2012, none of the formal options on the table will close the accounting gap. If the gap is not closed, forest management accounting will undermine the ambition of developed countries.

This fact was further illustrated today in a presentation made to the Parties by the Stockholm Environment Institute, which described the effect of the various loopholes or ‘alternatives to real mitigation.’ The ‘accounting gap’ was one of the many loopholes that mean developed countries could significantly increase their emissions while still meeting the emission reduction pledges they made in Copenhagen.

Underlying the forest management accounting gap is the troubling fact that developed countries are all forecasting that they will increase logging rates, thereby increasing pressure on forest reservoirs of carbon, and diminishing the forest sink. These actions violate commitments that all countries have made in the UN Climate Convention and the Kyoto Protocol to protect, conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs.

The challenge for this week is to translate understanding of this problem into politically acceptable solutions. Political acceptability has so far proved elusive, given the strong focus of most developed countries to avoid ‘punishing’ their forest sectors, rather than keeping their eye on ensuring emission reductions in all sectors.