LULUCF for Ministers

7 December 2011

Ministers, your attention is about to be rewarded.  This article aims to preserve your sanity.

In the past, ministers have run out of closed rooms when asked to make decisions on LULUCF. When a minister once was asked how the LULUCF rules were progressing in Marrakesh he replied, “I have no idea. It is like fighting in a fog and the civil servants have all of the weapons”.

The basics of LULUCF are not hard, just weird, and they work in opposition to the rest of the UNFCCC process. For example, it is generally assumed that developed countries should be cutting their emissions, or at least trying to. This is not the case in the Alice in Wonderland world of LULUCF; quite the opposite in fact.

To begin with, the ‘rules’ are currently optional, so if a country thinks that a LULUCF activity such as forest management will result in an emission, then it can choose not to account for it. If it thinks that the activity will result in a removal, then it will account for it and take the credit.

Are you with us so far? Can you imagine the fuss if developed countries arbitrarily decided not to account for industrial emissions? This is what is commonly known as legalised cheating.

So we offer a remedy.  Ministers should ensure that developed countries have to account for all LULUCF emissions and removals, not just the ones that suit them. This is called mandatory accounting and it really should be a core principle, or at the very least apply to forest management and wetlands.

It gets worse. The new rules on forest management are likely to allow countries to account for emissions however they choose, giving a whole new meaning to the word ‘rule’.

The most popular option (Option 1) is for the reference level (baseline) to be a projection, which assumes that emissions will increase, thereby ensuring that no emissions have to be accounted for.

Imagine this ‘rule’ being applied to electricity generation. A country could build as many new coal-fired power stations as it liked, and as long as the country first announced that it would do so, they would not have to account for any of the emissions. Bearing this in mind, ministers should reject Option 1 and go for either Option 2 (proposed by the Africa Group) or Option 3 (by Tuvalu) instead. These are not ideal but they are a lot better than Option 1; almost anything would be.

Now for another mind-bender.  To fully understand Harvested Wood Products (HWP) requires a twists in logic that we hope that ministers will not countenance, so here’s very simple advice. Just go for Option 3.

Last but not least, there is a proposal called FLU, which is as nasty as it sounds. This is an attempt to rewrite the Kyoto Protocol’s article 3.3. Reject “flexible land use” out of hand.

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