Will Rich Countries Come Clean on Land Use?

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By Steve Zwick

Negotiators from the climate change contact group dealing with land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) will meet Thursday morning in Bangkok – ostensibly to determine if it's possible for developed countries to report their emissions from land use geographically, as developing nations demand, or if they have no choice but to continue reporting their activities on a activity-by-activity basis, as they now do under the Kyoto Protocol.

It's one of those critical – yet tedious – issues being discussed throughout Bangkok's United Nations Conference Center this week and next. Advocates of using carbon offsets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (see "REDD Sticking Points", right) warn that a clunky or quick-fix resolution might not only discredit the practice of capturing carbon in trees and soil, but also make it possible for developed countries to under-report their total emissions.

"Credits from afforestation/reforestation have been treated as sub-class credits in the past because of fears of leakage and additionality," says Federica Bietta, who negotiates on behalf of Papua New Guinea and the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. "Now, we are beginning to see all of these issues resolved in developing countries, but Annex I (developed) countries want to give themselves a right to have leakage wherever they want?"

The issue of whether developed nations should account for land-use emissions on a "land basis" (which measures the total emissions and sinks on a given area of land) or an "activity basis" (which measures only emissions and sinks from certain land-use activities) is a critical one because land-based accounting more accurately reflects the true impact of land-use practices on the environment. It also goes to the heart of the schism between developed and developing nations – for, under the Kyoto Protocol, only developed nations are obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and many developing nations – especially larger, more prosperous ones – want to keep it that way.


The Kyoto Out for Rich Countries

Everyone agrees that accounting for emissions from forestry, national parks, and agriculture should be handled in a way that reflects all changes in land use across a given region – at least in the long term. Under the Kyoto Protocol, however, developed countries were given the right to both define and select which land-use activities they wanted to account for and which they wanted to ignore.

"It's like if Papua New Guinea wanted to get carbon credits by saving its national parks, but then was allowed to ignore all the emissions from deforestation in the rest of the country," says Bietta. "No one would let us get away with that – and they shouldn't. So, why should we let it continue in the European Union?"

The answer, according to EU delegates, is that developed nations cannot achieve accurate land-based accounting by 2013 – a contention that has itself been contested by delegates from poorer countries, who say that developed countries have been accounting for land-use emissions on a land basis since 2005 under an agreement enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of which the Kyoto Protocol is a part.

At the end of the last meeting in Bonn, LULUCF contact group co-chairs Marcelo Rocha and Bryan Smith asked developed-nation delegates to assemble all available data on emissions from land use in an effort to see what can and cannot be measured. On Thursday, the data is to be presented.


Setting the Forestry Bar

Adding to the complexity is a proposal by the European Union to measure all forestry activities under LULUCF – both those that are already mandatory under the Kyoto Protocol and those that are currently voluntary – but to set a reference level based not on past activities but according to a "BAR".

This new BAR (it's capitalized in the text) will, the EU proposes, be based on analysis of what constitutes a fair level of emissions. Furthermore, under a proposal dubbed "BAR-zero", it would allow developed nations to disregard any drops in the amount of carbon their forests absorb, provided the forests remain a net carbon sink.

The arguments in favor of BAR-zero are multifold, but they boil down to allowing for natural disturbances and recognizing the fact that many of Europe's forests were planted after World War II and will soon be harvested on a grand scale, with saplings replacing larger trees.

Jeff Fiedler, who is Senior Policy Advisor for Climate and Forests at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), says the BAR may offer a means of reaching compromise on these issues, but doesn't want to see it fly in its current form.

"If you do it responsibly, it's a pretty reasonable proposal, but the problem is what people are going to start claiming as the adjustments they need," he says. "Plus, there are already plenty of provisions for dealing with force majeure, and I suspect this is just an excuse to chop down trees for bioenergy."


Two Working Groups: Two Fronts

To understand the debate, it's important to differentiate between LULUCF and REDD. That requires a bit of history.

First, parties to the UNFCCC don't actually agree to meet reduction targets just by signing the framework convention. Instead, they agree to both measure their greenhouse gas emissions and to work together to reduce those emissions globally. Actual reduction targets and means of achieving them are then prescribed in updates to the framework convention, and these are called "protocols".

The Kyoto Protocol established binding reduction targets for developed countries that ratified it, but did not set binding targets for developing countries. It expires at the end of 2012, and the current negotiations are designed to hammer out a successor.

Up until the end of 2007, those negotiations centered around updating the Kyoto Protocol itself. At the end of that year, however, negotiations were broken into two tracts as part of the Bali Action Plan (see "The Bali Action Plan", right).

The first tract is the one that's amending the Kyoto Protocol, and the forum within which the negotiations are taking place is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, or AWG-KP. In Convention lingo, "Annex I" means "developed countries", so AWG-KP is focused on hammering out rules and regulations that restrict the emissions of developed countries.

The only countries participating in talks under the AWG-KP tract are the 189 that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to date. Because the United States is not among those, it cannot officially participate in the talks.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries are required to account for all of their greenhouse gas emissions – whether from industrial emissions or from land-use practices. They are also allowed to offset their industrial emissions domestically by improving their land-use practices (LULUCF) – and that's the rub.

If an "Annex I" nation has healthy policies regarding its national parks but poor policies regarding its private forests, it can count its national park activities as a carbon sink and ignore the emissions from other land use. Interestingly, the United States – even though it cannot participate in the AWG-KP tract – has generally been aligned with developing nations on this one, largely because of its low population density relative to Europe and prevailing land-use policies.

The other tract began with a clean slate at the end of 2007, and the forum within which the negotiations are taking place is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, or AWG-LCA. It deals with any new ideas, including determining what constitutes a "nationally-appropriate mitigation activity" (NAMA) for poor countries – another concept introduced in Bali and not yet agreed on.

NAMAs may take several forms – from unilateral reductions offered by individual developing nations, to reductions funded by developed countries outside of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) through which carbon offsets are channeled, to something in between.

All parties to the UNFCCC can participate in the AWG-LCA tract, which means the United States is engaged there as well.

Negotiators in each tract have been hammering out "negotiating texts" which contain all of the proposals on the table. In Copenhagen, the two negotiating texts will be blended into one document, with details being hammered out in the months afterwards.

For now, however, LULUCF is being dealt with in the AWG-KP, while REDD is being dealt with in the AWG-LCA.

Furthermore, LULUCF will only apply to developed countries in the coming commitment period, while REDD will apply primarily to developed countries.

As Copenhagen approaches, more and more negotiators are calling for tighter cooperation and communication between the two tracts. These calls generally come from developed countries, and are often countered by developing countries that fear being subjected to mandatory caps instead of voluntary NAMAs.


REDD Sticking Points

Climate-change negotiators meeting in Bangkok, Thailand this week and next say that the year-end climate talks in Copenhagen will yeild agreement on implementing a global regime for using carbon offsets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). That agreement will likely involve a phased approach begining with capacity-building, leading to financing of REDD projects by governments, and culminating with direct payments from emitters to forest projects by the end of the coming decade.

Two sticking points, however, remain: first, developing countries say that the provisions for financing in the second phase are fuzzy, and second, there is wide disaggrement over how to handle "REDD-plus," which is REDD plus "enhancement of carbon stocks (reforestation), "conservation" (recognition of efforts to protect forests that are not immediately in danger), and "sustainable forest management" (harvesting mature trees and other practices).

The contact group working on REDD-plus met twice on Tuesday, and group facilitator Tony LaViña is again corralling parties into bilateral talks that he says will yeild a revised text by Friday evening--just in time for the next official meetings, which are set for Saturday.

Negotiators contacted by EM say REDD-plus will likely be phased in along with REDD- in part because methodologies for REDD-plus are more developed than are methodologies for REDD alone, but also because REDD-plus offers more appeal to nations that have little in the way of intact forests (most notably China and India), as well as those that have launched preemptive conservation efforts (Guyana and Suriname, among others), and scores of others that rely on income from timber harvesting.

REDD-plus also has the backing of several credible non-governmental organizations- including The Nature Conservancy. "We believe it is important to include the plus activities from the start because it can reinforce the REDD activities," says TNC Forest Carbon Policy Advisor, Rane Cortez. "For example, by letting in reforestation, you can reforest corridors that connect large swaths of intact forests, you can increase the size of intact forests, or you can create reforestation areas that can be sustainably managed- which would take pressure off intact forests for those products that usually come from them.


The Bali Action Plan

 The UNFCCC secretariat has, at different points in the negotiations, established groups to tackle discrete issues outside of the chaotic setting of the Conference of Parties (COPs). Two such working groups met formally at the March/April Bonn meeting.

Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWC-KP): This working group is primarily charged with negotiating future commitments from industrialized nations in the Kyoto Protocol.

Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action uner the Convention (AWG-LCA): This group focuses on developing long-term cooperation between developing and industrialized countries, focusing on the following issues: mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, and financial provision.

Currently, REDD policy is being discussed within both of these groups simultaneously, while a third group, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advise (SBSTA), discusses the technical aspects of REDD.

You'll find detailed analysis of how these groups work here.



 Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at szwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

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