REDD haunted by LULUCF?

6 November 2009

A spooky story for the last day of negotiations: Once upon a time, ECO recalls, a list of LULUCF principles was determined and included the following: “That the implementation of land use, land-use change and forestry activities contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources.”

Yet today, under the rules for forests in developed countries, conversion of natural forests to plantations is not accounted.  Indeed, native forests and plantations are not even distinguished, making it impossible to directly track this important indicator of the impacts of LULUCF on biodiversity. The LULUCF principles have become wispy spirits haunting the forests of the North.

Today, forest conversion has become a bone of contention in the REDD discussions. ECO is glad to see that the safeguard against conversion of natural forests is back in the REDD text, although it is bracketed and vague. Inclusion of an improved version of this provision in the final Copenhagen agreement will be an important step towards banishing LULUCF spectres from REDD.

In addition, however, principles alone cannot ensure that REDD lives up to its promises. How will Parties ensure that conversion of natural forests to plantations does not occur under REDD as long as the definition of “forest” encompasses everything from tropical jungle to oil palm plantations?

Conversion of forests to plantations not only has dire consequences for biodiversity, it also increases emissoins.  And so ECO asks, what about the ‘E’ in REDD?  If you look closely, the definitional gap that exists in LULUCF as an important lesson for REDD.  Natural forests and plantations must be defined separately and emissions from conversion must be accounted for, just as degradation of forests must be defined and accounted for.

Relying on carbon accounting alone to prevent conversion is not enough, warn the ghosts of LULUCF, who whisper that accounting for degradation never became mandatory.  In the real world of tropical forests, proxies may be used to estimate carbon stocks, and if forest cover is one of them, then distinguishing plantations from forests becomes crucial. In addition, defining natural forests and plantations will help clarify what REDD is all about, and ensure confidence in its effectiveness to protect the climate.

ECO knows Parties are hesitant to enter a process of developing definitions akin to a recurring ghost story of the Marrakesh Accords. However, negotiators must use several potions to banish the phantoms of LULUCF loopholes. One of them is carbon accounting strong enough to ensure that emissions caused by conversion are seen by all and not just the atmosphere. Another is definitions. Employing the forest categories suggested by the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) of the Convention on

Biological Diversity would help protect REDD from the grinning spectre of unaccounted-for emissions lurking in the newly converted forests of Annex I.

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