December 16, 2009


In its Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that about 20% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions during the 1990s resulted from land use change, primarily deforestation, although 25% of total emissions are also estimated to have been absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems. Depending on the age of the forest, the management regime, and other biotic and abiotic disturbances (insects, pests, forest fires), forests can act as reservoirs, sinks (removing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere) or as sources of GHGs. Forests also provide a number of vital services, notably as repositories of biodiversity and regulators of the hydrological cycle. Reducing deforestation and land degradation and improving forest cover are vital for both mitigation and adaptation. However, including emissions reduced from forest-related activities in a carbon accounting system is complex undertaking, given the non-permanent nature of carbon uptake by trees and the potential for “leakage” as deforestation moves elsewhere. There are also critical environmental and social considerations that have to be taken into account.
Forests are addressed under the UNFCCC as both sinks and sources of emissions and all countries are expected to count their emissions and removals from land use change and forestry in their national inventories. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries with emissions reduction commitments (known as Annex 1 countries) may count towards their reduction target the emissions and removals of GHGs deriving from certain direct human-induced land-use change and forestry activities, including removals from afforestation (defined as planting of new forests on lands that have not been forested for a period of at least 50 years); reforestation (limited in the first commitment period to those lands that did not contain forest on 31 December 1989); emissions from deforestation; as well as possible emissions and removals from forest management, cropland management, grazing land management, and re-vegetation.
In addition, project based activities under two flexible mechanisms created by the Kyoto Protocol – Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – may also result in removals by sinks that can count towards an industrialized country’s reduction commitments. Joint Implementation refers to projects undertaken jointly by two Annex 1 countries; all projects undertaken in developing countries fall under the CDM. Afforestation and reforestation projects are allowed in the Protocol’s first commitment period under the CDM, and project activities have to address a number of issues such as non-permanence, uncertainty, the risk of leakage and others. Moreover, there is a ceiling on the maximum number of credits that an Annex 1 party can gain in this way.
At COP11 in Montreal, Canada, in 2005, forests were taken up under the UNFCCC itself under a new agenda item on “Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action,” as proposed by Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and eight other countries. As negotiations have progressed on a financial mechanism to compensate developing countries for recovery and maintenance of forest carbon stocks, three labels have emerged for what such a financing mechanism should cover: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD); conservation, sustainable management of forests and stock enhancement in addition to REDD (REDD+); and all terrestrial carbon in addition to REDD+ (REDD++).
Courtesy: IISD Reporting Services


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