Will EU Finally End its WTF Approach to Forests?

12 December 2018

ECO is old enough to remember the forest accounting rules negotiated in 2011 for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. At the time, ECO warned the EU and other developed countries against the dangers of building their baselines on hypothetical projections that envisioned massive increases in emissions from the forest sector. Sadly, the EU and others went ahead and did it anyway.

So at a side-event this week, when it was revealed that the EU was scrambling to correct an unearned windfall on the order of 100 Mt CO2-e per year, ECO felt the tiniest twinge of smugness. If memory serves, that was just about what ECO had predicted for the EU way back in 2011.

Under Kyoto, the EU used a technique called Projected Forest Reference Levels. This involved projecting a hypothetical expectation of forest carbon emissions. You might call it a “Working Theory of the Forest”, or WTF for short. Under the WTF approach, countries could base these projections on modeled expectations, political goals, or really anything they could justify. And they just couldn’t hold back from the temptation to inflate these projections, creating the opportunity for undeserved credits.

Lo and behold, this played out just as ECO expected for the EU. Due to the WTF approach, the EU was set to claim credit for 110-120 Mt of CO2 reductions below its WTF baseline (Grassi et al. 2018). Thankfully, this egregious claim was seen to be well beyond the pale, and the better angels of environmental integrity were seen to prevail. A lesser newsletter might have said “We told you so!”

ECO sees this as a make-or-break moment for EU climate policy integrity. The EU still has a chance to consign the WTF approach to history and disallow policy driven reference levels in the period 2021-2030. If it does this, it will set a good example to other countries across the Paris Agreement.

However, currently 2 EU countries (Finland and Sweden) still want to set their reference levels based on policy-driven targets. The other EU countries should reject this. The lesson is that countries shouldn’t abuse the reference level in the first place. ECO is watching, and we have a long memory. Don’t make us look at your forest reference level and ask: “WTF?”

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