Press Release: Forests and Soils Can Play Significant Role In Mitigating Climate Change

For Immediate Release:
June 27, 2000

Contact: Dale Curtis, 202-777-3530
             Vicki Arroyo Cochran, 703-516-0601

Forests and Soils Can Play Significant Role In Mitigating Climate Change: New Report Explores the Potential and Unresolved Issues

Washington, DC — Forests and soils could play a significant role in helping to reduce the risks of global climate change, but many key issues must be resolved, according to a report being released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Under the international agreement on climate change known as the Kyoto Protocol, many developed countries have set targets to reduce or restrain their emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from the combustion of fossil fuels. The treaty also encourages countries to reduce emissions by slowing deforestation or to remove CO2 from the atmosphere by planting trees. There is also the possibility of removing CO2 from the atmosphere through improved management of agricultural soils. These measures are collectively known as LULUCF — Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry -- but the details of how they would be handled are largely unresolved.

The Pew Center report, entitled "Land Use and Global Climate Change: Forests, Land Management and the Kyoto Protocol," was written by two internationally acknowledged experts on the issue. It explores whether land use and forestry activities can provide the same long-term benefit for the global climate system as direct reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. It also reviews the international negotiations on this issue to date, and suggests questions that must be answered before land management can become an effective part of the solution to climate change.

"Storing carbon is no panacea, but it could be an important part of the menu of options aimed at slowing the build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels," said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center. "However, key rules have been left undecided, allowing countries to push for interpretations that may weaken commitments made under the Protocol."

Among the key findings of the study:

  • LULUCF activities differ from emission reductions in several ways. One is "permanence," or whether carbon stored in the biosphere might be lost later, for example through a forest fire. Another long-term concern is "saturation," or whether the potential for LULUCF might be limited by the lands available and the amount of carbon that can be stored per unit of land.
  • Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol language on LULUCF is confounded by the lack of functional definitions for common words like "forest" and "reforestation."
  • Even if definitions of disputed terms and accounting rules can be agreed upon, the impacts on various countries of including LULUCF in emissions calculations will depend on the nature of their forests; whether the LULUCF sector is currently a net emitter or remover of atmospheric CO2; and trends in that sector.
  • Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol allows developed countries to receive credits for projects undertaken in developing countries. But the article does not specifically mention LULUCF projects. Negotiators must decide whether LULUCF activities will be allowed in such projects, and if so, what accounting mechanisms are appropriate, including how to address "permanence" issues.
  • The Kyoto Protocol recognizes LULUCF selectively, sometimes awarding credits for increasing carbon storage, and sometimes not; sometimes charging losses in carbon stocks (e.g., as a result of deforestation) against national commitments, and sometimes not. A climate control effort that includes forests needs to account for both CO2 emissions and removals in a balanced manner.

The report authors are Bernhard Schlamadinger of the Institute of Energy Research, a division of Joanneum Research, in Graz, Austria; and Gregg Marland of the Environmental Sciences Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

A complete copy of the report is available on the Pew Center's web site, www.c2es.org.

The Pew Center was established in May 1998 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the nation's largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of America's environment. The Pew Center supports businesses in developing marketplace solutions to reduce greenhouse gases; produces analytical reports on the science, economics, and policies related to climate change; conducts public education efforts; and promotes better understanding of market mechanisms globally. Eileen Claussen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, is the President of the Pew Center. The Pew Center includes the Business Environmental Leadership Council, which is composed of 21 major, largely Fortune 500 corporations all working with the Pew Center to address issues related to climate change. The companies do not contribute financially to the Pew Center — it is solely supported by contributions from charitable foundations.