Canadian forests at risk in Cancun climate talks

Send a message that this is not acceptable!

When world leaders come together later this month in Cancun, Mexico at the latest round of the UN climate negotiations, one of the key issues on the table will be how to account for and manage the carbon stored in forests and other terrestrial ecosystems. West Coast’s Forests and Carbon program has been on the forefront of pressing for new and sustainable forest and land use laws that make the connection between climate change and how we manage our forests. We’re alarmed to report that the Canadian government Banner_Stump.jpgis using these international negotiations to try to get special treatment – they want to set a future date to start counting emissions from logging in Canada and to keep logging our forests with impunity in the meantime. Please join us (and our allies) in sending a message to Canadian negotiators in Cancun that this is not acceptable. 

What’s happening in Cancun?

At the end of November government negotiators will spend time behind closed doors at the UN climate talks in Cancun, representing the Canadian government and negotiating the future of the planet with their counterparts from around the world. The occasion is COP16, the latest round of the UN climate talks.

In contrast to last year’s negotiations in Copenhagen, there has been little public fanfare leading up to Cancun, probably because there has been little sign of momentum since the underwhelming results of Copenhagen. However, the stakes are just as high: the world still doesn’t have a fair, ambitious and binding international agreement that will set us on the road to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding the most dangerous impacts of global warming and climate change. And despite the small reprieve offered by the global economic recession in 2009 that actually caused worldwide emissions to decrease, it looks like we humans will again be pumping record-high amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2010.

What do forests have to do with climate?

Forests, as they grow, take carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, out of the atmosphere and store it in biomass. Logging, on the other hand, releases carbon stored in forests and soils back into the atmosphere. Globally, around 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by land-use activities like deforestation and logging. A new scientific study has found that temperate rainforests, like those found in British Columbia, are among the richest storehouses of carbon in the world, on a per hectare basis, yet they lack adequate protection from human activities.

One of the issues on the table in Cancun is how to account for and manage the carbon stored in forests and other terrestrial ecosystems. At present, under the Kyoto Protocol, it is optional for countries like Canada to account for greenhouse gas emissions from activities like logging forests. On the table in Cancun is a prospective deal to make it mandatory to include these emissions in national inventories. 

But Canada and a number of other industrialized countries are lobbying for special treatment. They want to measure their greenhouse gas emissions from logging relative to some point in the future. In the meantime they will be able to increase logging, and emissions, without any consequences.

It’s like saying you’re going to go on a diet, but only after you’ve indulged over the holidays and gained a few kilos. If this strikes you as suspicious and unfair (relative to developing countries, who would have to start their carbon diet right away), then sign the Make Forests Count petition to add your voice to those calling for a fair and responsible approach.

Closer to home, BC is set to release the first public draft of its new Forest Carbon Offset Protocol. This protocol will determine what types of BC forest projects can sell carbon offsets to the BC government for its carbon neutral initiatives, and within the forthcoming cap and trade system under the Western Climate Initiative. Stay tuned to see if BC will show leadership, and put in place rules that will protect our valuable forest carbon storehouses.

By Deborah Carlson, Staff Counsel

Update November 24th:  The BC government has just released the Forest Carbon Offset Protocol, and is inviting public comment until January 31st, 2011.  Stay tuned for further analysis from West Coast.