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Accounting of GHG emissions and removals from forest management: a long road from Kyoto to Paris

Krug, Joachim H. A.
Carbon balance and management 2018 v.13 no.1 pp. 1
accounting, carbon, carbon sequestration, climate change, environmental policy, forest management, forests, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, politics, stakeholders, uncertainty, wood products
BACKGROUND: Forests have always played an important role in agreeing on accounting rules during the past two decades of international climate policy development. Starting from activity-based gross–net accounting of selected forestry activities to mandatory accounting against a baseline—rules have changed quite rapidly and with significant consequences for accounted credits and debits. Such changes have direct consequences on incentives for climate-investments in forestry. There have also been strong arguments not to include forests into the accounting system by considering large uncertainties, procedural challenges and a fear of unearned credits corrupting the overall accounting system, among others. This paper reflects the development of respective accounting approaches and reviews the progress made on core challenges and resulting incentives. MAIN TEXT: The historic development of forest management accounting rules is analysed in the light of the Paris Agreement. Pros and cons of different approaches are discussed with specific focus on the challenge to maintain integrity of the accounting approach and on resulting incentives for additional human induced investments to increase growth for future substitution and increased C storage by forest management. The review is solely based on scientific publications and official IPCC and UNFCC documents. Some rather political statements of non-scientific stakeholders are considered to reflect criticism. Such sources are indicated accordingly. Remaining and emerging requirements for an accounting system for post 2030 are highlighted. CONCLUSIONS: The Paris Agreement is interpreted as a “game changer” for the role of forests in climate change mitigation. Many countries rely on forests in their NDCs to achieve their self-set targets. In fact, the agreement “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century” puts pressure on the entire land sector to contribute to overall GHG emission reductions. This also concerns forests as a resource for the bio-based economy and wood products, and for increasing carbon reservoirs. By discussing the existing elements of forest accounting rules and conditions for establishing an accounting system post 2030, it is concluded that core requirements like factoring out direct human-induced from indirect human-induced and natural impacts on managed lands, a facilitation of incentives for management changes and providing safeguards for the integrity of the accounting system are not sufficiently secured by currently discussed accounting rules. A responsibility to fulfil these basic requirements is transferred to Nationally Determined Contributions. Increased incentives for additional human induced investments are not stipulated by the accounting approach but rather by the political decision to make use of the substitution effect and potential net removals from LULUCF to contribute to self-set targets.