LULUCF: Will better science prevail?

November 15, 2000

Despite uncertainties, long drawn negotiations focus on sinks as an option for carbon mitigation.

The draft decision on land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities mentions that the estimated magnitude and uncertainties related to the residual terrestrial uptake and the potential for sink reversal. When certain, real and effective methods to reduce emissions are available, why are sinks gaining so much importance? It also affirms carbon removal by these activities as a temporary removal and that countries using them to achieve compliance will be responsible for equivalent emission reduction at the appropriate point in time. There is no illustration on how this will be monitored. Such profound reservations notwithstanding, the contact group on LULUCF is currently negotiating the issue.

Given the huge potential for credits, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan and the US are some of the strong contenders for inclusion of sinks under CDM. Questions of permanence and additionality remain unresolved. The US does not want a distinction between natural and human induced activities in the definitions of afforestation and reforestation. The text on limiting a country's use to accrue credits from LULUCF activities if its total forest carbon stock falls is heavily bracketed as also the one restricting the quantum of credits earned from these activities.

The inclusion of sinks in the CDM is particularly questionable. The rush for cheap credits could easily overrule the rights of local indigenous communities, for whom forests represent more than just a way of carbon sequestration and are in fact a source of livelihood. There is no guarantee that sinks projects will take into consideration the need for promoting local biological diversity. Such projects could easily focus instead on faster and easier-to-grow monocultures. There is also a concern that new plantations may replace old-growth forests in many biodiversity-rich regions of the South. Further concerns are raised by reports that Northern companies are already acquiring large tracts of land on long term leases in Africa, where arable land is already in short supply, in the hope of making fast money through carbon sequestration projects.

Will additional human-induced activities under land use change and forestry categories be included from the first commitment period itself? Or, will scientific concerns be heeded and countries wait till second or subsequent commitment periods? Forest management, re-vegetation, cropland management and grazing land management are being suggested as additional activities. No agreement on their eligibility and definition has been reached so far.