(Reuters) – U.N. climate talks will struggle to agree new greenhouse gas targets next month unless they can solve a complex loophole where developed countries currently ignore emissions from logging plantation forests.
Environment ministers from almost 200 countries will gather in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 to December 10 to try to toughen the world’s response to climate change.
U.N. executives want rich countries in Cancun to make present emissions pledges binding under a U.N. deal, now expected to be finalized in December 2011.
One of the biggest hurdles to agreeing such targets is an accounting riddle over how to treat plantation forests: emissions from felling trees are simply ignored under the present Kyoto Protocol, whose first round ends in 2012.
“It is a big issue particularly when it comes to determining your emissions reduction targets, and particularly for some countries which have a lot of forests,” said Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union’s chief negotiator.
“It was a kind of loophole and a weakness of the Kyoto architecture and there’s a need to address that.”
Plantation forests, largely in developed countries, are used for pulp, paper and timber, and a market is rapidly growing for use of biomass to generate electricity, while huge future demand is foreseen for advanced transport fuels, made from wood.
Trees suck the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow. That effect offsets 10-15 percent of the entire emissions of Russia — which has vast forests — underlining the importance of the issue to some countries.
But it is also one of the most esoteric issues at the U.N. talks, sometimes mocked by climate aficionados for its unwieldy acronym, LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forests).
A deal on emissions from plantations is also important because the fine print will equally apply to an agreement later on saving tropical forests, where developing countries will be paid not to destroy rainforests.
“All the issues we are discussing here, you will have similar issues when it comes to tropical forests, and the issue of the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” said Runge-Metzger.
Under Kyoto, nearly 40 developed countries have emissions reduction targets from 2008-12.
At present, such countries can exclude from their targets emissions from chopping trees, but include the credit from the carbon stored by growing trees, making it appear a loophole.
Details of a LULUCF deal include whether to make emissions accounting mandatory, what cap should be placed on credit from stored carbon, and how to account for forest fires and for wood products including houses which are made from felled trees and do not add to carbon emissions immediately.
Mandatory reporting with some cap on credits would form a likely compromise, Runge-Metzger said.
In addition, some countries want reference levels of deforestation, where they build in to their targets expected increases in logging, an approach Greenpeace rejected.
“We see this as quite a flawed approach,” said campaigner Paul Winn, favoring reporting of emissions or credits in any one year, with credits discounted by 85 percent.
Article by Gerard Wynn, appearing courtesy Reuters.