The importance of LULUCF accounting for the success of the Paris Agreement

18 Jul 2017

 Climate negotiations, both at the EU and at the international level, have come at a crucial point regarding the role of the land sector to global emission reductions, which could “make or break” the Paris Agreement objective. An effective accounting system for land use emissions is crucial. Now is the time for the EU to step up its game and show leadership.

With the Paris climate Agreement, countries have agreed to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees, with best efforts for 1.5. In order to get on the right path and achieve this objective, it is essential to limit greenhouse gas emissions and maximize the potential to reabsorb them from the atmosphere.

A top emitting sector

Land use, currently a top emitting sector, will have a key role. Land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sectors encompass activities emitting or absorbing carbon dioxide stemming from farmlands, wetlands and forests, and all together are responsible for around 7% of global GHG emissions. Good land management will not only limit GHG gasses emissions but also increase the sector’s carbon sequestration potential, which essential to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

This topic is even more relevant now that, under the Paris Agreement, developing countries also have mitigation targets. With limited industrial capacity, it is likely that their climate action will focus on LULUCF. As highlighted by the briefing of the Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance, endorsed by Carbon Market Watch, making sure that climate change action in the land sector is compatible with safeguarding food security and respecting human rights is of the utmost importance.

LULUCF emissions accounting

This comes with an important challenge. Countries have agreed on the key role of LULUCF in climate action, but not on its most fundamental aspect: how to accurately account for the sector’s emissions and reductions.

In order to match climate commitments with ambition, we need honest accounting rules that take into account the complete impact of forest management. As the NGO FERN points out:  without clear accounting, States will be able to cut down many more trees k while claiming that they are sustainably managing their forests. Finland is a recent example of how countries want to use loopholes in accounting rules to claim a climate benefit that doesn’t exist.

A key opportunity for the EU

The EU is currently discussing LULUCF accounting rules for the period post-2020 and will finalize them before any accounting guidance is provided at the international level for countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – which include forests and land. This agreement will set a precedent for UNFCCC negotiations bit will not be easy to find, given that there are countries trying to “hide” their land sector’s emissions by supporting accounting tricks that do not represent the full climate impact of land use activities.

In an open letter, NGOs, including Carbon Market Watch, have called European legislators to eliminate current loopholes and craft strong legislation that will increase removals of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by enhancing natural sinks. This is a critical opportunity for the EU to show its climate leadership.

By Federica Pozzi – Intern  

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