Developed countries who have commitments under the Kyoto Protocol are negotiating loopholes for themselves that could lead to almost 400 Mt of extra emissions each year. After giving some background, I will describe the status of the negotiations, describe the loopholes, and quantify them. This will help us to see who the worst offenders are.

Emissions associated with land use are classified under the Kyoto Protocol as LULUCF – Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry. This includes deforestation – which is when you log a forest and replace it with some other form of land use such as grassland; but does not include forest degradation – which is what occurs when you log a forest and allow a forest to grow back. Because unlogged forests can store large amounts of carbon, emissions associated with forest degradation can be quite significant, but not accounted for. This can lead to perverse outcomes, for example it is possible to log old growth forests, use the wood to generate electricity, and not account for any of the emissions.

As a way of addressing this, the Kyoto negotiations have been looking at how to have countries include forest management in their accounts – this would include emissions from forest logging. Forests naturally absorb carbon dioxide, so when including forest management, reference levels (baselines) need to be negotiated so that countries don’t get credited for the removals that naturally occur anyway. Late in 2009, just before the Copenhagen negotiations started, countries submitted their preferred reference levels, as well as estimates of emissions in 1990, projections for the first commitment period (2008-2012) and projections for the second commitment period.

Each country proposed a reference level for itself, the numbers are given below (click on the image to enlarge it):

Forest Management Reference Levels

The problem with this approach is that each country has an incentive to choose a reference level that is generous to it. This is what has happened. Some countries who chose particularly generous reference levels for themselves include Russia, which chose a range between 0 and -177.8 Mt CO2-e of emissions, so that it gets credited if its forests are more of a sink than -177.8 Mt, but is only debited if its forests become net emitters and is projected to have emissions of -274 Mt in the first commitment period; New Zealand, who chose a reference level based on its forecast for 2013-2020, which is 19.4 Mt higher than its forecast for the first commitment period (over 23% of New Zealand’s 2005 emissions); and Japan, which chose a reference level of 0. These numbers all add up to 213-391 Mt CO2-e of excess allowances per year for Annex I countries compared to their projected forest management emissions for the first commitment period (depending on which number is used for Russia).

There was some extensive discussions on this issue at the Bonn climate negotiations on June 7, 2010, in the contact group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol. These negotiations were not broadcast, but some of what happened was broadcast on twitter (look up the #COP16 or #UNFCCC hashtag). I don’t know which countries did or did not have a constructive role in these negotiations, but would be very interested in finding out. The LULUCF negotiating text is here.