Acronyms Hide a Forest of Concerns

December 18, 2009

COPENHAGEN — The Bella Center was overflowing with incomprehensible acronyms this week, which often seems to obscure the important decisions under consideration.

There has been lots of talk of M.R.V. — that is, “Measurable Reportable and Verifiable,” a mantra used to describe the type of cuts and allocations of funding that all parties are demanding of each other — and from the A.O.S.I.S., or the Alliance of Small Island States.

But the worst acronym may well be L.U.L.U.C.F. (Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry) — and it hides a crucial issue.

The term refers to an agreement that covers forestry for developed countries that have pledged to reduce their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol – including some of world’s major logging countries, from New Zealand, Finland, Canada to Australia and Austria.

During the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, those reductions were voluntary. But after 2012, they may well be binding. And, as the developed countries have unveiled their plans for forestry at the Copenhagen talks, advocates have spied what they call a lot of “creative accounting,” according to Peg Putt, of the Wilderness Society of Australia.


As with any plan to reduce emissions, one key question is to establish a baseline. Under the Kyoto protocol, the baseline for factory emissions from industrialized countries was set at 1990. Now, a number of logging countries have proposed that the baseline for reduction should be set relative to the amount of logging projected to occur in the future, if the logging industry were allowed to grow as it is now.

In a deft bit of doublespeak, the countries call this method “a forward looking baseline.”

Environmental groups concerned about emissions from forestry call it “the logging loophole.” The result of this accounting strategy is that countries like New Zealand, Sweden, Finland and Austria would not have to reduce logging – and its emissions – nearly so much as other industries.

Indeed, with the loophole, New Zealand would actually get to increase its emissions 17 percent by 188 percent, according to calculations by the Climate Action Network. Switzerland and Norway and possibly France, have agreed to use a past baseline.

Ironically, especially in Europe, a lot of the new forest cutting will be used to provide wood for bioenergy. But isn’t that a good way to move away from fossil fuels?

Well, that depends, said Chris Henschel of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and chair of the Climate Action Network’s working group on forestry.

“If you don’t do proper accounting – with the proper price for carbon – it’s hard to know,” he said. “With the loophole, the real emissions reductions are less than they say. You’re basically allowing them to have a second set of books.”

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