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."
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