Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry

Other reports in this collection


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (SR-LULUCF) has been prepared in response to a request from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). At its eighth session in Bonn, Germany, 2-12 June 1998, the SBSTA requested a report examining the scientific and technical implications of carbon sequestration strategies related to land use, land-use change, and forestry activities. The scope, structure, and outline of this Special Report was approved by the IPCC in plenary meetings during its Fourteenth Session.

This Special Report examines several key questions relating to the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the terrestrial pool of aboveground biomass, below-ground biomass, and soils. Vegetation exchanges carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere through photosynthesis and plant and soil respiration. This natural exchange has been occurring for hundreds of millions of years. Humans are changing the natural rate of exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere through land use, land-use change, and forestry activities. Consequently, it is important to examine how carbon flows between different pools and how carbon stocks change in response to afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation (ARD) and other land-use activities.

The aim of the SR-LULUCF is to assist the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol by providing relevant scientific and technical information to describe how the global carbon cycle operates and what the broad-scale opportunities and implications of ARD and additional human-induced activities are, now and in the future. This Special Report also identifies questions that Parties to the Protocol may wish to consider regarding definitions and accounting rules.

This Special Report should be helpful in the implementation of relevant Articles in the Kyoto Protocol by providing information about measurement and monitoring techniques for assessing changes in carbon stocks in Annex I and non-Annex I countries, the applicability of the Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories for national and project-level accounting, the implications of Articles 3.3 and 3.4, and project activities relating to sustainable development.

This Special Report also estimates potential carbon yields from ARD and additional activities by evaluating changes in carbon stocks for different ecosystems, current land area converted per year (Mha yr-1), and total land available for two different time periods: near term (between now and the end of the first commitment period) and longer term (1990-2040). Project experience is also provided for several projects, primarily in tropical countries.

Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol requires mutually acceptable definitions for a wide range of terms to ensure that effective sequestration strategies are planned and implemented. For instance, if key terms such as forests, afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation are not clearly defined or if carbon accounting principles are not clearly established, it becomes difficult to comprehend the implications of different land-use activities. Hence, the challenge is to derive a set of definitions that are simple and consistent with the aims of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. To achieve this goal, definitions should be applicable to all Parties and be addressed using data that can be readily accessed. This process will enable Parties to estimate carbon stock changes that would need to be included in the calculation of assigned amounts.

In examining issues relating to land use, land-use change, and forestry, several critical scientific and technical questions present themselves. What are the implications of using different definitions or sets of definitions? Do the definitions need to be flexible enough to accommodate our present understanding of carbon dynamics while allowing for future innovations and advances? How do we distinguish among direct human-induced activities, indirect human-induced activities, and natural environmental variability that affects carbon uptake and release? How do we differentiate between pre- and post-1990 direct human activities? How do we measure changes in carbon stocks and flows in a transparent and verifiable manner over time? How permanent are carbon stocks? To what extent do we trade simplicity for accuracy in accounting?

In summary, the SR-LULUCF is written with a variety of questions in mind that examine the scientific and technical aspects of carbon sequestration in agricultural and forestry sectors as well as the implications of land use, land-use change, and forestry activities on environmental and socioeconomic issues, conservation, and sustainable resource management and development issues.

Robert T. Watson and David J. Verardo

Other reports in this collection