Prepared: October 15, 1997

The Net Approach - the great carbon scam

The Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), commits Parties to:

"limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs."

The FCCC also requires that all Parties report the following:

"detailed information on its policies and measures, as well as on its resulting projected anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol."

All trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they die and decompose or are burned. The atmosphere, the land and the oceans hold carbon in reservoirs that are exchanged between each other over millions of years. This is known as the carbon cycle. The burning of fossil fuels, in fact, is removing the carbon reservoir from the land base and placing it back in the atmosphere. Humans are also cutting more trees and building more cities so that the land base also is returning more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than is being absorbed. This is why carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing in the atmosphere.

Planting more trees and reducing deforestation will increase absorbtion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help slow global warming. The Convention requires that all Parties protect these "sinks". This is a good thing.

The Convention also requires that Parties report emissions from their sinks.

The Convention, however, does not mention the net approach. This is a political interpretation of the Convention which says that Parties can deduct any increase in carbon sequestered in their sinks from their fossil fuel emissions. Canada has always supported the net approach.

What's wrong with this picture?

1. It is extremely difficult to accurately determine how much carbon is being sequestered in trees. The carbon that is sequestered is temporary as trees do not live forever. Will these lands be excluded from development in perpetuity? If not, how will the debit be recorded? As most of these lands are in developing countries, are developed countries limiting development? If carbon credits are awarded from sequestration, the credits should be discounted according to levels of uncertainty.

2. Canada supports the net approach, yet has not been able to develop an inventory of emissions from Canada's forests. In addition, Canada only wants to record emissions or sinks from the managed forest, not the entire forest cover. This is irresponsible. The Convention requires reporting of emissions/sinks from all reservoirs. Forest fires and pest outbreaks have turned the boreal forest in Canada into a source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Forestry Canada estimates more than 50 million tonnes a year now is emitted. The forestry sector, however, argues that it manages sustainably, although no proof is offered or criteria developed to prove the case. The forestry sector is arguing that there are no net emissions from its forestry operations. In fact, it is argued that forestry operations are a net sink of carbon. Canada wants to deduct this sink (if it exists) from its fossil fuel emissions. The Climate Action Network is completely opposed to this approach.

What Canada should do:

1. Report on emissions and or sinks from all of Canada's forests.

2. Promote sustainable forestry and protection of all its forest cover, particularly through calls for global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming. Canada could lose up to 2/3 of its boreal forest from higher temperatures, more fires and more pest outbreaks.

3. Report increases in sinks and allocate to forests only, but do not deduct from fossil fuel emissions.

4. Canada must abandon its position that the Protocol now being negotiated to set new greenhouse gas targets for after the year 2000 should include provisions for the net approach.