NGOs push for greater transparency, ambition in carbon accounting for forestry

Guest post from Bonn by Miriam Chaum, Economic Policy Fellow, EDF’s Climate & Air Program

Forest and land use accounting rules are a growing part of the buzz here at the Bonn climate change talks. The cumbersome title for these accounting rules is LULUCF, short for Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry.

"LULUCheFs" demonstrate at U.N. climate conference in Bonn

Today, demonstrated against poor accounting rules.  Dressed as “LULUCheFs” and toting enormous spoons (to stir an enormous cauldron of “cooking books”), the demonstrators handed out flyers featuring a recipe for a “LULUCF cake,” which would require “equal portions of ambition and environmental integrity” and feature “a goal to reduce emissions.”  Bon appétit!

Where forestry accounting rules stand now…

But this is one of the most serious issues being debated here. These policies set the rules for measuring the addition or removal of carbon from land management activities by developed countries.

It is very important that these accounting rules are established correctly because the forests and lands in the developed countries hold a huge amount of carbon: In 2007, the carbon absorbed by the forests and lands of developed countries, including the U.S., amounted to nearly 1,600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (the way emissions are measured).  This means that if these forests and lands were a country, they would represent the third largest flow of carbon into or out of the atmosphere from developed countries, after the United States and Russia.

Unfortunately, the currently proposed accounting rules will allow developed countries to leave a total of about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from forestry and land use change off the books each year.  These rules would, in effect, eliminate the incentive to increase forest and land-based carbon sinks through better management practices.

… and how to fix them

I am here working with my EDF partner and LULUCF expert, Dr. Jason Funk.  Jason and I, in collaboration with our non-governmental organization (NGO) colleagues, are asking developed countries for:

  • greater transparency in their proposed accounting methods
  • improved data quality
  • a shift toward more comprehensive accounting of land use activities
  • a commitment to reduce emissions from the land use sector

Although it seems there may be overall progress here in Bonn, Jason and I are speaking directly to a number of countries — particularly those countries with forests and lands that remove a large amount of carbon from the atmosphere and for which these  removals represent a significant proportion of total national emissions.  We hope to partner with some of these countries on longer-term projects.  We have also analyzed the impacts of a move toward more comprehensive accounting and we will present the results of this analysis at a side event seminar here at the conference.

Jason and I have only been on the ground in Bonn for two days, but we have been very active in this short time: communicating with our NGO colleagues, speaking directly with negotiators, and performing some real-time analysis.  We look forward to another week and a half of such productivity and, hopefully, to progress not only on forestry and land use accounting rules, but in these negotiations on the whole.  We have less than six months until the next Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico.

Miriam Chaum is an Economic Policy Fellow in the Climate & Air group at EDF working on global emissions reductions pathways, international climate finance and economics, and forestry and land use in the developed world.  She has been covering the forestry and land use issue with Jason Funk, Ph.D. since the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in December 2009.

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