Climatic loophole

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented a special report on the impact of land use, land use change and forests (LULUCF), which focuses on the complex issue of linking climate change with forestation, at a meeting of subsidiary bodies of the un Frame Convention on Climate Convention in Bonn, held from June 12-16. The findings of the report is likely to affect the negotiations at the crucial conference of parties (COP), scheduled to be held at The Hague in November, since it is related to the emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries under the Kyoto Protocol.

Though the atmosphere of the Bonn meeting was quite relaxed, since such precursive meetings rarely arrive at solutions for the more contentious issues, one of the most disputed loopholes of the Kyoto Protocol is that it provides for land, forest or oceans to be considered as 'sinks' for greenhouse gases.

Under the protocol, industrialised countries can take into account afforestation, reforestation and deforestation, and other land use and forestry to meet their emission reduction commitments. This provision is a highly controversial one for various reasons, including the fact that it could act as an incentive for industrialised countries to increase their use of fossil fuels.

The IPCC was initially asked to prepare this report in order to assist countries formulate rules and policies governing LULUCF activities in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The report on sinks was presented in a four-hour side event that attracted basically every negotiator. Text from the report, which stated that the use of sinks could cover the entire reduction commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, had to be deleted in the last minute due to pressure by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Russia and the US. Although this is clearly what these governments want, they were reluctant to have the matter stated so clearly, given its contentious nature.

With the release of the IPCC report, sinks can now be potentially identified as the most dangerous loophole for the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol. A quote from the report's summary may illustrate this worrying trend: There are many possible definitions of a forest

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