EU re-examines forestry’s climate role
The long-debated issue of what part forestry should be play if any in the European Union’s climate change effort is again at the fore. The European Commission last week opened a consultation on whether land-based activity, the LULUCF sector in Kyoto Protocol jargon, should be included in the EU’s 2020 emissions reduction effort.
Currently LULUCF is not included in EU emissions accounting and human-related greenhouse emissions and emissions reduction activity does not count towards its Kyoto targets. Yet latest official figures show 410 million tonnes of CO2e in greenhouse gases were removed from the atmosphere in 2008 by the EU forestry sector, around 8 per cent of total EU emissions across its 27 member states. But forest activity – afforestation and reforestation primarily - has been left out in the cold in current emissions targets to 2012 and the following target for a 20 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020.
This is in direct contrast to other developed countries – the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand - where forestry is seen as crucial to emissions reduction targets. And much more modest targets at that.
Being shut out of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has been a big negative for the forestry and forest carbon project industries, denying them access to hundreds of millions at least in carbon finance mobilised in the world’s biggest carbon market. Meanwhile, structural problems in the way permanence is handled in forest carbon in the second biggest carbon market, the UN CDM, has compounded the problem.
Central to the issues under consideration in the current EU consultation, running until early November, will be whether the accountability of the forest sector has now advanced far enough to warrant its inclusion in targets. Inclusion would almost inevitably mean access to the market mechanisms that are the cornerstone of EU climate policy.
At issue is the accuracy of carbon accounting in trees and soils and the implications of this for the credibility of projects that seek to increase carbon stores or reduce emissions. How the permanence of carbon stored in planted forests can be ensured is a central concern in the debate.
Opponents of inclusion say that the concerns stand today – that carbon land use accounting remains inherently rubbery compared to the energy and industrial sectors. Also, that including forest carbon sequestration would dilute the EU target effort, allowing other sectors to avoid cutting emissions as much as they would otherwise have to.
Proponents say the issues that prevented forestry’s inclusion in EU climate policy and its mechanisms have gone a long way to being addressed in recent years. Measuring carbon in above-ground tree biomass, root systems and soils has advanced and validated methodologies for sequestration, restoration and preservation project activity are growing.
The voluntary carbon market has been left to take up the slack in forest carbon project space and has won credibility for its alternative approach to permanence – through the use of buffer reserves of credits held back from projects to cover potential future losses.
The unsettled question of whether the EU increases its 2020 target from 20 to 30 per cent and where the extra emissions cuts might come from adds a further dimension to considerations.