Rich countries led by Russia, Australia and the EU have been accused of trying to cheat their way out of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by creating "dishonest" forestry accounting loopholes. They want to change the rules governing the offsetting of emissions from planting trees, while ignoring emissions created by felling them. Climate scientists believe the loophole would allow industrialised countries to go below their own commitments.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Sean Cadman from the Wilderness Society
CADMAN: What they are actually asking for is a 400 megaton loophole, so they would actually increase emissions above that business as usual that they've been doing, in other words the way their forest industries work, they would increase those emissions by increasing harvesting to the tune of 400 million tons of carbon emissions a year. Now that's a big number, but to put in perspective, it's equal to all the annual emissions of Spain, and half of the annual emissions of Germany. So it's a very, very large loophole they're looking for, in fact it's somewhere between three and five per cent of the overall ambition that's required to get to a kind of solution. So it's a very large loophole
COUTTS: And there are a number of the richer industrialised nations, including Russia and Australia, are now working or they've been actually accused of trying to exploit this loophole. How will they do that to their advantage?
CADMAN: You have to sort of hand it to Russia, I mean they're actually very honest about what they want. This is an opening meeting, this is a meeting open to everybody, so in front of everybody they said look, we've put on the table a potential target of a 25 per cent emissions reduction by 2020. If we get this big loophole, and for Russia it's huge, it's nearly 200 megatons, so it's about half of that surplus, if we can get our loophole we'll meet the 25 per cent. If we can't, we will only make 15 per cent. Now what subsequently transpired was that the EU sort of more or less jumped in behind them and also tied the level of its ambition in terms of a target to being able to cheat this way on forest management, which is you can imagine didn't go down terribly well. And then Australia compounded the situation by saying look even if you give us these cheats, we might not do them anyway because they might not suit us. Now of course that actually through the whole negotiation into a fairly difficult place because the whole context for two and a half years of negotiation around forest management is that it's currently voluntary, so people don't actually have to account for emissions in forestry. And this is supposed to be the big new move forward, and of course what we're seeing is it it's starting to appear like it's a great big move backwards.
COUTTS: So essentially it's a dishonest forestry accounting loophole?
CADMAN: Yes it's a massive forestry accounting loophole. Now we think we understand what's happening in Australia, and what's happening in Australia is is that government's had a policy which they call the 2020 Plantation Vision, and that was designed to put 20 million hectares of plantations in the ground by 2020. And the policy has been partially successful driven by some pretty dodgy taxation treatments that people have probably heard of these managed investment scheme treatments for forest. But anyway so a lot of trees have been planted, but a lot of those trees, in fact most of those trees are short rotation blue gums to be harvested for pulp. And they will come up for harvesting in the time period of the next commitment and beyond. Now suddenly those emissions, there's no possibility under the current rules that Australia can get away from accounting for those emissions. And there's a big difference between reporting and accounting. Accounting is what you actually take into your target, and reporting is what you do to tell people what's actually happening. And so the way the rules are constructed at the moment, that activity which is to plant trees on the cleared land is called afforestation or reforestation, and all of the countries who've signed the Kyoto Protocol have to actually account for those emissions. So Australia doesn't want to account for those emissions it would appear, and so they've put up if you like a position to suddenly say that there's going to be an increase of emissions to the tune of 50 megatons, which again is a large number, so it's equivalent to more than ten per cent of the loophole for all of these annexed ones.
COUTTS: So they are going to be able to avoid making hundreds of tonnes of cuts?
CADMAN: Yes and that's the really, it would appear to be avoiding at least 50 megatons of cuts a year, but it's a yearly figure. And that's really quite significant for Australia. All of these annexed countries with the exception of Switzerland, have essentially said well we're going to increase our harvesting of forests or our treatment of forests emissions, and we want to be, we are effectively asking you to subsidise us for that increase targeting, and not to have to account for the emissions.
COUTTS: Well how much of an input is the Pacific having? You've commended a couple of countries; Tuvalu, FSM?
CADMAN: Tuvalu has been absolutely brilliant through all this negotiation, they're the country, well probably the country with the very most to lose. I mean their country will go underwater, the Maldives will go under water, Micronesia will go under water, and Micronesia and Tuvalu have been very, very clear and very direct in the negotiations about the implications of these kind of rules. I mean we've got this really bad situation where all of the climate science is saying that we need at least a 25 to 40 per cent emissions, global emissions reduction by 2020, and you've got the richest countries in the world using a logging loophole to actually go below their own commitment. Lots of these countries committed to 25 per cent emission reductions. Well Russia stated it the most boldly, they quite clearly said that well if we don't get our logging loophole then we're going to only take a 15 per cent emission target. So we have a compromised situation for the climate and the people who live in the Pacific.