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Developed countries plan to hide emissions from logging

While developing countries in the tropics have received a lot of attention for their deforestation emissions (one thinks of Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia), emissions from logging—considered forest cover change—in wealthy northern countries has been largely overlooked by the media. It seems industrialized countries prefer it this way: a new study reveals just how these countries are planning to hide forestry-related emissions, allowing nations such as Canada, Russia, and the EU to contribute to climate change without penalty.

Complied by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the study found that only Switzerland has been open and transparent about its forestry emissions.

“It’s extremely disappointing that Canada and other developed countries, including the members of the European Union, New Zealand and Australia, are cheating on their targets and proposing to sweep increased emissions from logging under the rug so they don’t have to account for them,” Chris Henschel said in a press release by CPAWS. Henschel is an international expert on the UN negotiations on Land Use and Forestry and senior conservation manager with CPAWS.

Clear cut logging in the north: Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The study shows that most industrialized nations have set a “projected baseline” for their forestry-related emissions. In other words, the country will only be penalized for carbon emissions if they go above their projected baseline (which the countries set themselves), allowing them to emit a certain amount of carbon with impunity. For example, the projected baseline of New Zealand allows the country to emit almost 200 percent more carbon from future forestry activities than its current forestry-related emissions. In addition to New Zealand, the projected baseline scheme is being employed by Canada, Australia, Japan, and the EU. The study gives each of these countries—the EU included—a failing grade.

In all, the study estimates that during the next Kyoto commitment period (post 2012) industrialized countries will be allowed to emit approximately one gigaton of carbon without penalty, thereby hampering efforts to lower total emissions.

“We’d expected Canada and other countries, especially the EU, to take a much stronger leadership role in proposing rules for developed countries that would honestly account for emissions and stimulate greater forest conservation,” says Henschel. “Instead we’re seeing nearly every country trying to cheat the climate and forests.”

The EU’s stance was a surprise since historically it has pushed the most of the industrialized nations to curb carbon emissions.

Nations which have not established a projected baseline have found other ways to hide their forestry emissions according to the study. Russia chose an historic baseline of 1990, which allows the country to increase logging by nearly 60 percent over the next fifty years without penalty since its forest cover has increased since 1990. In addition, it has said it will not consider any forestry-related emissions until its vast boreal forests became a net contributor of carbon giving it a free ride in forestry over the long-term. Norway also chose 1990 for the simple reason that this baseline allows the country, like Russia, to get away with not lowering its forestry emissions.

Since it is not a signatory of the Kyoto Treaty the United States has avoided paying any price for its forestry emissions and has yet to establish its position.

It should be noted that industrialized countries are not participating in deforestation according to its current definition, which means land-use change, i.e. converting a forest into agriculture. But emissions from logging—considered a change in forest cover—are still large, especially in primary growth forests where upsetting soils and destroying old-growth biomass releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

“Protecting natural forests helps us fight climate change; cutting forests makes it worse,” says Henschel. “Incentives for developed countries to stimulate greater forest conservation are critical in the next climate change agreement. Canada’s boreal forests alone are estimated to hold close to 200 megatonnes of carbon within their trees and soils.”

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