Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Europe Frames UN Forest and Climate Negotiations

I have written a lot on this blog about the 'logging loophole' in the Copenhagen climate negotiations. This loophole would allow developed countries to escape accountability for forestry emissions by hiding them in a "projected" baseline, rather than measuring actual changes in emissions.

The collapse of the formal UN talks in Copenhagen left accounting rules for Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) hanging. Without any decision, environmental groups, campaigning hard at Copenhagen against the logging loophole, were left wondering about the state of play: had they sown enough doubt about this approach that it could be seriously challenged and pushed back this year? Was it a fait accompli, with even developing countries willing to swallow this bitter pill in order to simply move on?

Two recent communications from the EU have confirmed that the environmental integrity of LULUCF accounting rules is still very much in question, and therefore still attainable. The communications focus on the problem of poor environmental integrity in LULUCF accounting rules and explicitly identify the need to choose between historic and projected reference levels for forest management.

First, the European Parliament adopted this text on February 10, 2010: The European Parliament, 20. Calls for the environmental effectiveness of Annex I emissions reduction targets to be the guiding principle as regards the EU approach to international accounting rules for forest management and LULUCF, to flexible mechanisms and to the banking of any overachievement during first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol towards post-2012 targets;

Yesterday, the European Commission released its communication, International climate policy post-Copenhagen: Acting now to reinvigorate global action on climate change" is out now.

The communication highlighted LULUCF rules as having the potential to further erode the weak emission reduction targets coming out of Copenhagen:

Accounting rules for land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions from developed countries: While the EU has no difficulties in matching these requirements, it is an issue of particular importance for major forestry countries outside the EU and environmentally critical. The current rules under the Kyoto Protocol, if continued, would entail lowering the actual stringency of the current emission reduction pledges and imply that reductions can be claimed without additional actions, which brings no real environmental benefit. In an extreme scenario, the worst-case LULUCF accounting rules would weaken the real level of ambition of developed countries by up to an additional 9% in relation to 1990. This would mean that for the lower end of the pledges we would in fact allow for an increase in developed country emissions of 2.6% above 1990 levels and for the higher end of the pledges we would only see a 2% reduction in relation to 1990.

The Commission's staff working document supporting this communication explicitly observes that the question of whether reference levels are based on historic data or projections as one of the key unresolved issues in LULUCF (section 1.2.3, page 7):

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry

Accounting rules for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) will have an important impact on the level of ambition of the target of several Annex I Parties. Developed countries’ emission reduction targets can therefore not be finalised until the future LULUCF rules have been agreed and taken into account

In addition, important parameters still need to be discussed and agreed such as
  • the way to set the reference level (based on historic data or projections),
  • cap, and
  • threshold for the eligibility of force majeure events;
Parties need to decide whether accounting for forest management, cropland management and grazing land management should become mandatory after 2012 as foreseen by the Kyoto Protocol or whether they will stay voluntary.

The communication from the European Commission also concedes that we may need to wait for the UN meeting in South Africa at the end of 2011 to sew up a new legally binding treaty. A focus on getting key decisions in place this year should give the breathing room required to fix the LULUCF negotiations and close the logging loophole.