A Disturbing Disturbance

2 October 2011

Parties don’t want to have to account for forestry emissions not caused by humans, like wildfires. Fair enough you might say, but this is being used as another attempt to hide emissions.

Until recently, only events classified as force majeure – large-scale events beyond the control of Parties – would be excluded. However, the language of “force majeure has now been dropped in favour of the less specific  “natural disturbance”. Whether its called natural disturbance or force majeure, the CAN view is that any mechanism agreed in the LULUCF rules must transparently and conservatively factor out emissions and removals from extraordinary natural disturbances only.

So what the heck does that mean?

 “Extraordinary” has to be defined.  And its definition shouldn’t be wildly at odds with a plain English meaning of, well, extraordinary.  Common sense suggests that it should only be used for statistically extremely rare events and the same provisions for natural disturbance should be consistent for all Parties.

It also means you can’t hide just any (or all) of your debits.  And it means you shouldn’t hide emissions if they come from stuff you did (like harvesting, or salvage logging).  Because its natural disturbance, remember?  It means you need to really clearly say where, why, and how much you are calling natural disturbance (i.e. show your work!)

It means that you have to treat natural disturbances in exactly the same way in your baseline as you do in the commitment period you’re accounting emissions. Finally, it means you have to be able to measure them really well, and that requires high quality data.

So in short, a natural disturbance mechanism for LULUCF has to retain the common sense meaning of force majeure. If parties are worried their carbon sequestration will go up in smoke, they should discount the credits.

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