Monthly Archives: July 2010

United Nations urged to adopt EDF's proposals to improve carbon accounting in forestry

Reporting from the U.N. pre-sessional climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

Leading up to next week’s round of international climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, a coalition that includes Environmental Defense Fund today presented to the United Nations its proposals to properly account for land management activities that add or remove carbon in the atmosphere.

Using the historical average baseline (HA in graph above) is the most transparent way to account for emissions from the forestry and land use sector. This chart shows how alternatives to the Historical Average can lead to a wide range of unaccounted emissions.

In an unusual – and promising – move, the countries invited the Climate Action Network (CAN), a group of more than 450 organizations worldwide including EDF, to present its preferred accounting rules for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) at a one-day “pre-sessional” meeting before the official negotiations begin Monday.

Today EDF and CAN representatives got to formally introduce the approach we’ve been pushing for some time now: accounting rules for creating robust and scientifically-accurate reference “baselines”.   (If you want to get into the weeds, check out the presentation we made and the "Forest Management: Getting the Accounting Right" fact sheet we handed out at the workshop.)

Parties were eager to talk about the details with me and Miram Chaum, the two EDF representatives, and they used the presentation as a launchpad for the day’s discussions.  One delegate from Brazil said EDF’s technical work was a “very helpful contribution,” echoing comments throughout the day that showed countries are interested in hearing the environmental community’s concerns and solutions.

Forestry and land-use policy has become one of the biggest issues this year in international negotiations, and negotiators have been intensely debating how to account properly for activities in forests in developed countries that add or remove carbon in the atmosphere.

Part of that debate is focused on how to define sustainability.  The problem is that we don't know what countries are going to do with their forests in the future.  They might have a long-term commitment to sustainability, or they might not.  Without a way for countries to clarify their long-term commitments, the environmental community is left in doubt about their intentions.

But in Copenhagen, most Parties made a long-term commitment through the Copenhagen Accord.  It would be helpful, at this stage, for countries to elaborate how forests are going to help them meet their long-term commitments under the Accord.  Until then, we don't have much transparency about their commitment to sustainability.

What’s wrong with current LULUCF accounting proposals?

Our analysis shows regarding the impacts on the atmosphere that will be unaccounted by any party if the proposed accounting rules are accepted.  Party Proposed Reference Levels

  • Allow emissions to go unaccounted and are not an effective mechanism for guaranteeing accounting integrity and ambition.
  • Do not incentivize activities to reduce forest emissions using mitigation activities identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Create the largest accounting gap, and would allow these emissions to go unaccounted.

The upshot is that these rules could allow Annex I countries (developed countries) to violate their climate commitments and allow new emissions to occur without penalty.

And the amount is not small.  We found that this factor and the impact of other proposals submitted by Parties could lead to an unaccounted emissions increase of nearly 580 Mt CO2-e per year – that’s nearly the amount of the United Kingdom’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, Parties have agreed to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs, and make deep cuts in global emissions.  When we look at the science, we can only conclude that any increase in net LULUCF emissions will undermine Annex I Parties’ efforts to meet their economy-wide post-2012 commitments to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

How can we solve LULUCF accounting?

CAN’s basic principle is simple: a long-term average is the best benchmark for measure changes in net emissions.

Using alternatives to a long-term average presents two major problems:

  1. A projected reference level is designed to measure deviation from planned growth, and does not accurately reflect changes in emissions relative to the current state of the atmosphere.
  2. LULUCF rules will undermine economy-wide ambition if they fail to account for increased net emissions from forest management from historic levels.

A long-term average – at least 10 years – is a better option, because it offers a number of advantages:

  • It allows better characterization of uncertainty.
  • It smoothes effects of economic cycles or transitions.
  • It evens out effects of interannual variability.
  • It minimizes winners and losers: everyone is treated equally.
  • There's no opportunity for choosing convenient years to maximize credits.
  • It serves as the best reflection of historical impacts on the atmosphere.

Can we say all this in five sentences?


  1. Historical average baselines are the best reflection of changes in emissions to the atmosphere.
  2. All other alternatives create an accounting 'gap'.
  3. This gap is largest for proposed reference levels.
  4. The accounting gap would undermine Parties’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.
  5. The historical average must be at least 10 years long so that fluctuations are smoothed out and the real effects of activities can be determined.

You can read more about our work with and analysis of LULUCF and forestry policy on the EDF Climate Talks blog and EDF's Forestry and Land Use Policy 101 [PDF].

Posted in Forestry, UN negotiations / Leave a comment

Clean Energy Ministerial: a modest move in a good direction

Ministers, senior officials and business leaders representing the world’s biggest economies at the first ever Clean Energy Ministerial in Washington this week took an important step in addressing the nuts and bolts of technological innovation for clean energy and energy conservation.

It is encouraging to see that despite the long way we have to go on national and international climate policies, nations are beginning to share the expertise that is crucial to making real greenhouse gas reductions.

Policy will be toothless without the know how to move nations to clean energy economies.  At the same time, we will need greater levels of ambition and stronger policy signals if these technologies are ever to be deployed at the scale needed to make a difference.

EDF encourages the participants to expand future summits to include the Small Island Developing States and other coastal nations that are already suffering the impact of climate change and making public commitments to transforming to low energy economies.

See a letter that EDF and other NGOs sent last week to Secretary Chu, host of the Ministerial.

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Enviro groups criticize REDD+ Partnership’s "unacceptable" exclusion of civil society

EDF’s REDD intern Martina Car contributed to this post.

While EDF welcomed the agreement among 50 countries to collaborate in the global effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) established during May’s Oslo Climate Conference, the REDD+ Partnership got off to a disappointing start this week after deeply inadequate steps were taken to include stakeholders in the Brazil meeting.

The REDD+ Partnership meetings are intended to bring together governments, private sector and civil society groups – including indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations – to make important decisions about the world’s forests.

However, the Partnership, co-chaired by Japan and Papua New Guinea, waited until one week before its first-ever meeting to invite civil society groups. Given the short amount of time to make travel arrangements and jointly strategize on policy recommendations, representatives from wide-ranging sectors of civil society – especially delegates from developing nations and spokesmen from indigenous communities – found it impossible to attend the meeting.

Too little notice is “unacceptable”

In response to this failure to include stakeholders in the important REDD decision-making process, NGOs across the political spectrum sent letters of protest to the chairs of the Partnership; thirty-six NGOs boycotted the meeting altogether.

EDF joined a number of other environmental groups to express concern about the way civil society had been excluded.  In a letter to the participants in the REDD+ Partnership, environmental groups wrote:

We… find the arrangements for this meeting to be inconsistent with the goals of the Partnership, in particular its stated principle to ‘be inclusive of all committed countries as well as representatives of relevant stakeholders including indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society and the private sector.’  The process for engaging stakeholders in the [Brazil] meeting is unacceptable.

The groups also urged governments to postpone any decisions until there is a legitimate and workable consultation process in place.

Transparency and coordination crucial for next meeting

Though the first meeting of REDD+ Partnership may have been “a serious false start,” as some NGOs have said, it has also been an opportunity for Partnership organizers to learn an important lesson, making way for a more transparent and coordinated process for civil society’s engagement in future talks.  This serious consultative flaw must be fixed for the next meeting.

Posted in Deforestation, News, REDD+ / Leave a comment

EDF crunches the numbers for climate change

Environmental Defense Fund’s numbers crunchers once again are providing the critical figures needed to develop new climate change policies this week at the Fourth World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists in Montreal, Canada.

Intensity targets and economics

U.S. C02 intensity, carbon emissions, and GDP 1996-2006

Intensity targets for emissions can be ineffective at reducing total emissions because, such as in the U.S., it’s possible for a country’s emissions intensity to fall while it total carbon emissions increase. This means falling intensity targets don’t necessarily result in an absolute emissions reduction, which is imperative for successful climate policy.

In their Montreal presentation, Alexander Golub, a senior research fellow at EDF, and Dominic Marcellino of the Ecologic Institute look at intensity targets, policies that specify emissions reductions relative to a country’s economic output or productivity (e.g. tons of CO2 per million dollars GDP), and pose the question: Are intensity targets the way to facilitate economic development and prevent climate change?”  Answer:  No.

They explain why: developing countries are both the primary future victims and the main future contributors to climate change.  These countries need to address climate change without sacrificing their economic development goals.

Some policymakers have proposed climate policy based on intensity targets.  Not a good plan, say Golub and Marcellino, who argue intensity targets don't provide advantages for climate policy because they:

  1. don’t provide better environmental results
  2. are more expensive than other types of policy
  3. will do nothing to ease international negotiations

View Golub's presentation about intensity targets, economic development and preventing climate change.

Reducing deforestation and economics

Slowing deforestation can lower the total costs of climate policies by up to 25 percent, according to a new analysis from EDF Senior Economist Ruben Lubowski, EDF's Golub, Valentina Bosetti of the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM), a leading energy and climate modeling center in Europe, and Anil Markandya of the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3).

Lubowski says the research in “Linking Reduced Deforestation and a Global Carbon Market: Implications for Clean Energy Technology and Policy Flexibility":

confirms that integrating REDD into global carbon markets can create powerful incentives for preserving tropical forests while lowering costs and enhancing climate protection objectives.

We find that by introducing policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), countries can reduce the costs of climate policy by up to 25%, and even more if there is uncertainty over future climate targets. Introducing this additional way to meet emission targets has little negative effect on the development of clean energy technologies, and actually could boost investments in some key technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

EDF's Lubowski and FEEM's Bosetti also recently collaborated in authoring and editing a FEEM publication of Deforestation and Climate Change: Reducing Carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The book, which looks at the history and current status of REDD, aims to:

shed light on some of the major concerns, issues and challenges related to the inclusion of forest carbon in international climate policies, as well as to illustrate some of the potential solutions and paths forward.

Economics and controlling climate change under uncertainty

EDF's Golub presents "Economics of Controlling Climate Change Under Uncertainty" in Montreal.

EDF's Golub also tackles another tough economic issue — the costs of controlling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In his paper “Economics of Controlling Climate Change Under Uncertainty”, Golub looks at the best times for reducing emissions as the state of the climate worsens, as well as the best moments for improving the future state of the climate when current situations are improving.

Golub also draws an important conclusion: that uncertainty is not a good excuse for inaction in addressing climate change.  Definitive rules about when to cut emissions, he finds, could be formulated even before uncertainties are resolved.

View Golub's presentation about economics of controlling climate change under uncertainty.

Posted in Economics / Leave a comment