Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry

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Part II

3. Issues Associated with Definitions

  1. For purposes of this Special Report, in a given land area and time period, a full carbon accounting system would consist of a complete accounting for changes in carbon stocks across all carbon pools. Applying full carbon accounting to all land in each country would, in principle, yield the net carbon exchange between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. However, the Kyoto Protocol specifies, among other things, that attention focus onto those land areas subject to "direct human-induced" activities since 1990 (Article 3.3) or human-induced activities (Article 3.4). []

3.1. Forests, Afforestation, Reforestation, and Deforestation

  1. There are many possible definitions of a "forest" and approaches to the meaning of the terms "afforestation," "reforestation," and "deforestation" (ARD). The choice of definitions will determine how much and which land in Annex I countries are included under the provisions of Article 3.3, lands associated with activities included under Article 3.3 (hereafter "lands under Article 3.3"). The amount of land included will have implications for the changes in carbon stocks accounted for under Article 3.3. [2.2.2, 2.2.3, 3.2, 3.5.2, 3.5.3]

  2. Seven definitional scenarios were developed that combine definitions of forest and ARD and reflect a range of approaches that can be taken. The scenarios are not intended to be exhaustive. They can be split into two representative groups, which are discussed in the SPM: 1) scenarios in which only a forest/non-forest conversion (i.e., a land-use change triggers accounting under Article 3.3) (e.g., IPCC Definitional Scenario), and 2) scenarios in which land-cover change or activities trigger accounting under Article 3.3 (e.g., FAO Definitional Scenario). [2.2.2, 2.2.3, 3.2, 3.5.2, 3.5.3, Table 3-4]

  3. Countries have defined forests and other wooded lands, for a number of national and international purposes, in terms of (i) legal, administrative, or cultural requirements; (ii) land use, (iii) canopy cover, or (iv) carbon density (essentially biomass density). Such definitions were not designed with the Kyoto Protocol in mind and, thus, they may not necessarily suffice for the particular needs of Articles 3.3 and 3.4. [2.2.2, 3.2]

  4. Forest definitions based on legal, administrative, or cultural considerations have limitations for carbon accounting as they may bear little relationship to the amount of carbon at a site. [2.2.2, 3.2]

  5. Most definitions of forest are based in part on a single threshold of minimum canopy cover. However, such definitions may allow changes in carbon stocks to remain unaccounted under Article 3.3. For example, if a high threshold for canopy cover (e.g., 70% canopy cover) is used in the definition of a forest, then many areas of sparse forest and woodland could be cleared or could increase in cover without the losses or gains in carbon being counted under Article 3.3. If a low threshold is set (e.g., 10% canopy cover), then dense forest could be heavily degraded and significant amounts of carbon released, without the actions being designated as deforestation. Similarly, a forest, for example with 15% canopy cover, could be considerably enhanced without the actions qualifying as reforestation or afforestation under Article 3.3. Approaches to partly address these problems may include, inter alia, using national, regional, or biome-specific thresholds (e.g., a low canopy cover for savannas and a high canopy cover for moist forests). [2.2.2, 3.2, 3.3.2]

  6. Definitions of forests based on carbon-density thresholds have similar issues with respect to thresholds as canopy cover-based definitions. [2.2.2]

  7. There are a number of approaches to definitions of afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation. One approach involves the concept of land-use change. Deforestation can be defined as the conversion of forest land to non-forest land. Reforestation and afforestation can be defined as the conversion of non-forested lands to forests with the only difference being the length of time during which the land was without forest. [2.2.3, 3.2]

  8. An alternative definition of deforestation might be based on a decrease in the canopy cover or carbon density by a given amount or crossing one of a sequence of thresholds. Similarly, afforestation and reforestation could be defined in terms of an increase in canopy cover or carbon density. None of these definitions involves the concept of a land-use change. [2.2.2, 3.2]

  9. Definitions of a forest based strictly on actual canopy cover without consideration of potential canopy cover could lead to harvesting and shifting agriculture being referred to as deforestation and to regeneration being referred to as reforestation, thus creating additional areas of lands under Article 3.3. If the definition of a forest was based on the potential canopy cover at maturity under planned land-use practices, harvesting/regeneration activities may not fall under Article 3.3. [2.2.2, 2.2.3, 3.2]

  10. Some commonly used definitions of reforestation include the activity of regenerating trees immediately after disturbance or harvesting where no land-use change occurs. If, for example, the definition of deforestation or the accounting system do not include disturbance and harvesting, then emissions from a harvested stand will not be accounted for. In this particular example, uptake due to regeneration would be accounted for, resulting in potentially significant credits for which a corresponding net removal of carbon from the atmosphere would not occur. This issue could be considered when developing the accounting system. []

  11. There are several consequences of using definitions that lead to the creation of lands under Article 3.3 by the harvest-regeneration cycle (i.e., where harvesting is included in the definition of deforestation, or regeneration is included in the definition of reforestation). For example, a forest estate managed on a sustainable-yield basis where an area of forest is cut in a regular cycle (e.g., 1/50th of the forest is harvested and regenerated each year on a 50-year rotation cycle) may be in approximate carbon balance. However, in this case, only those stands harvested or regenerated since 1990 would be considered lands under Article 3.3. The regrowth (carbon sink) on these lands will be less than the carbon emissions due to harvesting until all stands of the estate are lands under Article 3.3. Different definitional and accounting approaches would have different accounting consequences. For example:
    In each of these approaches the accounted stock changes would generally be different from the actual net exchange of carbon between this example forest estate and the atmosphere during a commitment period. [3.2, 3.5.2]

  12. Afforestation is usually defined as the establishment of forest on land that has been without forest for a period of time (e.g., 20-50 years or more) and was previously under a different land use. The precise period that distinguishes afforested from reforested land is not important in accounting for lands covered under Article 3.3 provided afforestation and reforestation are treated identically under the Protocol, as they are in the Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.2 [2.2.3, 3.3.2]

  13. Article 3.3 encompasses ARD activities that have occurred since 1990 but recognizes only verifiable carbon stock changes in each commitment period. This has several implications. For example:
  14. Such outcomes could possibly be addressed through different combinations of definitional and accounting approaches. [3.3.2]

  15. There are definitional and carbon accounting issues concerning drawing a clear boundary between natural phenomena and human-induced activities, when, for example, significant forest losses occur as a result of fires or disturbances such as pest outbreaks. In cases involving lands under Article 3.3 or 3.4 where fires or pest outbreaks occur in a forest, a question is whether accounting should, inter alia: (i) count neither the loss nor subsequent uptake of carbon (which reflects the actual net change in carbon stocks on those lands and exchange of carbon with the atmosphere in the long term, but creates problems in continuing to account for the area burnt/defoliated as lands under Article 3.3 or 3.4); (ii) count both the loss and subsequent uptake of carbon (which reflects the actual net change in carbon stocks on those lands and exchange of carbon with the atmosphere, but creates an initial carbon debit for the Party concerned); (iii) count only the loss of carbon (which would overestimate the actual losses of carbon stocks, not represent the exchanges of carbon with the atmosphere, and create future accounting problems), or (iv) count only the subsequent uptake (which would fail to reflect the actual changes in carbon stock and would not represent the exchanges of carbon with the atmosphere, and would provide carbon credits for the Party concerned). []

  16. In cases involving lands that do not fall under Articles 3.3 or 3.4, where fires or pest outbreaks trigger land-use change, the consequences are similar to deforestation. If similar vegetation cover is allowed to regenerate, such disturbances may not lead to a long-term change in carbon stocks. [2.4.4, 2.2.3, 2.3.3]

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