Countries hiding real rate of CO2 emissions - claim

 

EU MEMBER states and other developed countries have been accused of engaging in “creative accounting” to hide an estimated 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions every year – in their trees.

The figure, referred to by environmentalists as a “gigatonne gap”, is equivalent to Spain’s total annual emissions or half those of Germany, and all of this was “going to go missing in the accounts if these guys get their way”, one of them warned.

Seán Cadman, forest campaign co-ordinator for the Wilderness Society in Australia, said only Switzerland was standing out against “this massive logging loophole” in the negotiations to agree a deal on land use, land use change and forestry – known as LULUCF.

“A dirty LULUCF deal is a dirty climate deal,” he declared, adding the consequences for the climate would be “disastrous”. He called on delegates from other developed countries, such as Norway, to “stand up to this disgraceful scandal” at the Bonn climate talks.

“Shocking graphs were presented by the EU in respect of the ambition for this sector,” he said. “Only one country, Switzerland, put forward a reference level for environmental integrity that would see them taking some of the consequences of an increase in logging.”

Mr Cadman admitted Australia “has a problem” because it planted so many trees in the 1990s that would probably be “harvested” within the next decade or so. “But the question is – do you win on the roundabout and lose on the swings?” he asked.

Forests serve as “carbon sinks”, so countries are entitled to subtract the CO2 stored in trees from their total greenhouse gas emissions. But if the trees are cut down for use in making timber products, as the Swiss concede, they should then be treated as “debits”.

The push for a more liberal regime is being made by developed countries covered by the Kyoto Protocol, including Ireland. They have made it clear the use of almost unlimited forest offsets is the price to be paid for agreeing deeper cuts in their emissions.

Under the proposed LULUCF rule, they would be able to claim credits for forests without even having to set a baseline – such as 1990, the usual “accounting year” under Kyoto and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Environmentalists see this as a “race to the bottom”, as Mr Cadman said. They also say it contradicts the declared commitment of several developed countries to provide aid to help save tropical rain forests under the “Redd” programme now gaining momentum.

Redd (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is being promoted by the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. Last month, Norway, Germany, Britain, France, the US, Australia and Japan pledged $4 billion (€3.35 billion) to prevent tropical deforestation. Meanwhile, the Central Africa Forests Commission (Comifac) – a bloc of 10 African nations – has called on all developed countries to “take their responsibilities [and] close current loopholes in the LULUCF rules of accounting.” It also wants “more clarity” in the debate.

In a reference to the arcane level at which it is conducted in working groups, the bloc said this debate was “always full of surprises, with numbers and new rules at each session”, adding the Comifac nations “feel lost with the increasing level of complexity”.

Although Comifac’s intervention “lit off quite a firecracker on the negotiations on LULUCF”, according to Chris Henschel, of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, it has not galvanised the G-77 group of 134 developing countries to make similar demands. The G-77 plus China has put forward a compromise proposal that would at least “try to minimise the cheating,” as Mr Henschel said, by establishing an independent panel to review the reference points that countries select to meet their CO2 reduction targets.