Kyoto carbon sink rules "endangering progress"

German advisors stress the need to define, limit, "offsetting" of emissions cut obligations

Agreement under the Kyoto protocol that carbon absorption by forests can be counted against commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions "endangers progress on climate protection," an official panel of German scientists has reported. In a study delivered to the German environment ministry today, the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) concludes that there are "serious deficiencies" in the way that countries will be able to "offset" emission reduction obligations against carbon absorbed through afforestation or reforestation. First, says the WBGU, carbon sinks were not included in calculation of the 1990 baseline against which countries must limit emissions by 2008-2012. Therefore, the reduction obligation is "watered down" and absolute reductions in emissions will be lower. "Unclear definitions" in the rules are a second issue highlighted by the WBGU, which argues that they could "promote abuse" of the protocol. For example, it says, a country could clear primary forest, reforesting before 2008 to gain the benefit under Kyoto of having fast-growing new trees which absorb carbon dioxide rapidly. The WBGU also stresses that inclusion of sinks in the protocol entails many uncertainties. "Even with slight climatic change," it says, ecosystems "can lose their ability to absorb carbon dioxide and become instead generators". Overall, the council argues, measures inconsistent with long-term climate protection should not be offset against emissions reductions obligations "even if they [are] formally in keeping with the wording of the protocol".

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