USA fleshes out forestry sinks proposal

Complicated formula would cut available credits by almost two-thirds, says delegation head

The USA today clarified its proposal to allow industrialised countries to offset carbon absorbed by existing forests against greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol. According to its delegation at the Hague climate summit, the plan would allow only about one-third of the theoretical total carbon absorbed annually by US managed forests to be counted during the period to 2008-12.

The USA and EU have been squaring up for a massive battle over carbon sinks at the Hague talks, with the former previously demanding no restrictions and the latter calling for them to be excluded until after 2012. Introduced last week without detailed figures, the American compromise proposal (ENDS Daily 15 November) was roundly rejected by the EU (ENDS Daily 17 November).

Managed forests in the USA are estimated to absorb 310m tonnes of carbon per year. This is 19% of the 1,632m tonnes of carbon equivalents emitted by the USA in 1990, the protocol's base year. If all of this could be counted against emissions then the country would have a much easier task to meet its protocol commitment of a 7% emissions cut by 2008-12.

Under a complex formula released publicly today, however, the US delegation said it was prepared to limit the forestry absorption that could be offset against emissions to 125m tonnes. "This involves us taking a substantially smaller fraction than is actually available to us," chief US negotiator Frank Loy said.

The rules for counting carbon absorption by "additional activities" in existing managed forests are being hammered out under article 3.4 of the Kyoto protocol. This is one of the two main sink operations envisaged under the instrument, the other being expansion of forest cover.

Other governments at the Hague talks had yet to respond to the US proposal this evening, but environmental groups quickly attacked it. "This giant free gift demanded by the USA would allow them to meet up to half their Kyoto target without any further action whatsoever," Friends of the Earth said. WWF said that when applied to other industrialised countries, the formula would "wipe out the 5.2% reduction that is the Kyoto target."

Follow Up:
US COP6 website; WWF, tel: +32 2 743 8800; Friends of the Earth International.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.