USA strengthens its stance against Kyoto

The United States is proposing that countries should get as much credit for their carbon dioxide sinks as they would for cutting industrial and domestic emissions.

In preparation for the next Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention in November in The Hague, the US State Department has published the Government’s views on the effects of land-use and forests on climate change.

“Reducing the rate of deforestation and increasing the rate of sequestration through improved forest and cropland management would result in even greater net removals of carbon from the atmosphere, counterbalancing in part the effects of fossil fuel emissions,” says the State Department.

The Clinton administration was reported by The New York Times on 2 August as saying that bringing farmers and foresters into the battle is likely to be crucial in order to change the view of the Senate, which firmly opposes any international climate treaty.

Though the Kyoto Protocol recognises the positive role of carbon sinks in assisting countries in addressing climate change and meeting their targets, the State Department report complains that it leaves out the exact ways in which sinks will count.

The United States proposes the inclusion of forest, cropland and grazing land management, and, in order to account for greenhouse gas emissions and removals associated with these, the US advocates a land-based accounting system which would focus on the changes in carbon stocks (see related story). The US government claims that there are a number of benefits associated with this scheme, compared to the current Kyoto accounting system:

  • comprehensive accounting provides the greatest long-term incentive to protect existing carbon reservoirs – such as mature native forests; increase carbon removals; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through better land management practices;
  • their accounting system best reflects the actual exchanges of carbon between the atmosphere and biosphere;
  • comprehensive accounting will prevent countries from picking and choosing only those activities that remove carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while ignoring other activities that emit carbon;
  • land-based accounting is easier to monitor and verify than activity-based accounting;
  • it allows flexibility;
  • the US system provides incentives to develop new land management practices and technologies;
  • it minimises leakage and double counting;
  • it addresses many of the accounting problems identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its recent scientific report on carbon sinks;
  • since practices that enhance carbon also tend to improve air, soil and water quality, the US system will maintain biodiversity in forests, and provide socio-economic benefits.

The report estimates that appropriate land management activities would remove approximately 300 million tonnes of carbon per year, but complains that the actual number of credits that will count towards the US meeting its Kyoto target will only depend on the outcome of discussions on these proposals.

According to a poll released on Wednesday by the US branch of the World Wildlife Fund, 73% of American voters believe that global warming is a serious threat, whilst 80% want the US government to take action to reduce CO2 emissions (see related story).

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