Right now in Barcelona is the time for Annex I Parties to change their LULUCF strategy and stop looking for cheap and easy credits from this sector. Continuing on this path will undermine the integrity of the Copenhagen climate agreement instead of creating a fair and transparent accounting framework through which industrialized countries take full responsibility for emissions from logging and bioenergy production.
It has already become clear that seriously flawed rules will be challenged by non-Annex I Parties and observers alike. Moreover, continued advocacy for such rules by some Annex I Parties risks a setback in the overall negotiations and raises the necessity for further modifications such as caps or discounting.
Fair and effective forest management accounting rules will provide an incentive to make structural changes in forest management that benefit the climate, and discourage forest management practices that yield little value. Yet the options in the current working text are flagrantly asymmetric.
Sources of debits are variously removed from the accounting altogether, defined away in the reference levels, explained as natural disturbances, or delayed for decades by favorable wood product accounting. Erasing debits is like deciding that nobody will ever fail in a pass/fail system – and will provide about the same amount of motivation for the effort to get forest management right.
It's a little hard to believe, but the positions taken by many Annex I negotiators effectively define their preferred management choices as carbon-neutral, regardless of what emissions actually are. In this fantasy world, you incur no debits for a ‘business-as-usual’ policy of cutting forests at age 50 even if most of the national forest estate is now 49 years old and you’re about to cut it all down! Nor do you receive debits for stepping up forest harvest to produce bioenergy. But the atmosphere sees the debits as emissions that should not have increased.
Annex I LULUCF negotiators need to remember -- or be reminded by their ministers and civil society -- that the planet is at stake here and, yes, we actually need to reduce emissions. Good intentions are welcome, but we are not here to engineer rules to avoid changing how forests are managed.
ECO is pondering what would happen if other sectors played the LULUCF game. How about assigning zero emissions to the power sector if they ramp up production using a business-as-usual practice of burning oil? In the LULUCF world they would only count the emissions if the sector switched to a dirtier fuel like coal. But that's not what we meant by 'ambition' in a good Copenhagen deal.