Memo to Ministers: Close the LULUCF Loophole!

7 December 2010

Ministers, would you like a glowing ECO article with your name on it?  
As you delve into the unresolved issues with the KP, the first thing you need to know is that the main proposal for LULUCF doesn’t ensure a robust, environmentally sound approach to forest management accounting.  While sorting this out may seem daunting when you are presented with the complex draft text, we can help make your mission very clear: close the Logging Loopholes!  And if you do, ECO will put your decision in lights and say your country did something really great to truly reduce emissions.
To get a sense of the problem, consider that the proposed reference levels for forest management, tucked away in an innocuous looking annex, would allow an increase in annual emissions of 451 Mt relative to the historical average (1990-2008). That’s a lot of tonnes!  
Surely a half-gigatonne divergence from recent trends is a red flag. The Copenhagen pledges are for emissions decreases, and yet the LULUCF reference levels go up. Up versus down, hmmm.  That means Annex I Parties now assume their own logging increases while asking other countries to reduce their emissions from deforestation. The forest sector should not be excluded, so how about actually building ambition right into the 
LULUCF rules.
So one huge step is to close the loophole of the projected reference level approach, which will only make climate change worse.  
And there are lots of ideas floating around the Moon Palace on how to do this.  Some of them already appear as options in the draft text: use a historical baseline (Tuvalu); combine historical and projected baselines (Africa Group); fix the rules and policy cut-off dates for reference level setting; revert to the current rules for the first commitment period.  Most of these options can be judged against their ability to shrink the loophole.
ECO stresses that LULUCF accounting must be mandatory, and not only for forest management, but for all sectors (to the extent it’s technically feasible).  For example, emissions from draining and rewetting wetlands are considerable, and they should be counted.
But it’s also important that mandatory accounting not come at the price of deeply flawed rules. The objective of this process wasn’t just to produce new LULUCF rules, but rather to produce better ones.
Another large loophole in the draft LULUCF text is the provision to allow Annex I Parties to exclude from the accounting books emissions from wildfires, infestations, extreme weather events, and the like.  This is known as force majeure, a legal term that means these emissions ‘could not have reasonably been foreseen by the Party’. Some Parties are trying to exploit this provision to exclude all emissions from natural disturbances, a recipe for diminished accountability and lost mitigation potential.  
Normal variations in natural disturbances and even increasing trends as a result of climate change can both be reasonably foreseen.  This means the force majeure text must involve a threshold below which emissions are not excluded.
Ministers, we’re facing a daunting gap between emissions reductions on the table and what science says is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It’s time to get serious and tackle emission reductions wherever we can. Start by closing the logging loopholes, and headlines galore will follow.

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