Europe makes u-turn on sinks

After much argument about whether countries should be allowed to use carbon sinks to offset carbon emissions - with Europe adamantly against their use until recently - EU research commissioner Philippe Busquin has announced evidence that nearly 30% of annual industrial carbon emissions in Europe are absorbed by the European biosphere.

Arguments about the right to use carbon sinks had caused a major rift between Europe and a group of countries led by the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, which urged their use as part of their contribution to the efforts to reduce global warming. As a result of this opposition, carbon sinks were included among the carbon reduction methodologies at the last climate change conference in Bonn despite the EU fighting hard for emission reduction techniques as the preferred method.

Heavily-forested France, Finland and Sweden are thought to be the countries most likely to take advantage of the carbon sink allowance – the proposed individual country carbon sink allowances were agreed in Bonn and have remained largely unchanged by the Marrakech meeting.

The information on the new research was released to coincide with the climate talks taking place in Marrakech, which finalised the rules comprising the Kyoto agreement.

The cluster of eight research projects, sponsored by the EU, also published a report on an independent method to verify the amount of greenhouse gases taken up by forests and the soil, usually known as carbon sinks. The CarboEurope projects, launched in 2000, are designed to continue and intensify the EU’s early research into atmospheric CO2 levels and have already provided a crucial source of data and information about carbon balances across Europe and beyond. The EU expects that their work will have a fundamental impact on the implementation of the Kyoto protocol.

A methodology for verifying the amount of CO2 absorbed by carbon sinks will be a vital part of ensuring that the agreements reached during the last climate change conference in Bonn can be controlled. Environmental groups, however, maintain their opposition – Greenpeace has called on European countries not to take up their carbon sink allowances.

“We have now scientific evidence that almost one third of the industrial carbon emissions in Europe are absorbed by the European biosphere and there is a great potential of increasing this sink capacity by improved and sustainable management of European forestry and agriculture,” said Busquin.

“European research activities, such as the CarboEurope project, have again proved to be vitally important tools for policy-making – in the field of environmental protection as much as in other areas,” he added.

The report’s other findings are:

  • The European biosphere has additional potential to absorb carbon emissions through afforestation projects and improved management methods;
  • Because the carbon sink of the terrestrial biosphere can now be scientifically measured it should allow for the implementation of an independent carbon verification system by the year 2012; and
  • The future of the biospheric carbon sink is not safe as, by 2050, European research groups expect that the carbon sink will attain a saturation level, declining after that date.

“At present, Europe is leading this area of research,” said Professor Valentini from the Universitˆ degli studi della Tuscia, who played a crucial role in setting up the CarboEurope cluster. “It is strategically important for us to maintain that leadership, also because of the policy implications of the Kyoto Climate Convention for European society. CarboEurope results were critical in achieving agreement on sinks at COP6-bis in Bonn in July 2001.”

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