30 Fairmont Park Lane S
Re: Taking a wooden nickel
When Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997, I recall former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien assured Canadians that exports of our nuclear technology and clean natural gas would play a role in helping our country meet her commitment. A couple of years later, during negotiation of Kyoto details, developed countries were asked to refrain from taking emissions reduction credit for nuclear technology under the Clean Development and Joint Implementation Mechanisms. Canada then embarked on a negotiating campaign within Kyoto to secure credits for energy exports derived from natural gas and hydro generated electricity. That initiative too, was rebuffed by Canada’s Kyoto peers.
What was Jean Chrétien’s response to rejection of these legitimate means of reducing emissions? He magnanimously ignored those international slights to his credibility and proceeded to ratify Kyoto in December of 2002. Canada is now committed to the Kyoto game which comes into effect on February 16. Perhaps it is time to play a little harder.
Perhaps our government holds one more ace in its greenhouse gas reduction hand. Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990- 2002, issued in August of 2004, indicates that a change of accounting procedure could dramatically reduce Canada’s net emissions.
Annex 6 of the inventory report establishes the basis. Table A6-1 indicates our “managed” forests extracted some 310 million tones of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2002. The carbon component is stored by the trees in wood. Table A6-3 shows carbon losses from the forests equivalent to 297 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. “Industrial roundwood harvested” holds the equivalent of 156 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
This is where the accounting procedure starts to get interesting. Page 168 of Annex 6 states that; “Emissions from harvests are treated as though they are 100% released as CO2 to the atmosphere in the year and country of harvest. The net change in carbon stocks retained in wood products is not considered.”
In reality, that industrial roundwood is either exported to other countries or turned into lumber which is exported or built into our growing stock of houses. It is, in effect, a carbon sink which will last far beyond the Kyoto compliance period of 2008-2012. It appears a simple change of accounting procedure could thus reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to some 150 million tonnes per year. The responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions from exported wood products would be turned over to the importing countries, where it logically belongs. That would certainly help us mange our reduction commitment of some 250 million tonnes annually.
Alternative approaches to the accounting of greenhouse gases are discussed on page 168 of the report. The authors make it clear they believe alternate accounting approaches “provide a more accurate reflection of when and where emissions and removals actually occur”. Would anyone within the Kyoto club object to changing the accounting procedure? You bet.
Many of those involved in setting up Kyoto standards have little interest in actually managing greenhouse gases. They are hitching on to Kyoto to further other objectives. For example, the current emission accounting procedure favors the preservation of standing forests. A change to the accounting procedure toward rationality would encourage the harvesting and re-growing of forests as a means of carbon dioxide management. Environmental groups involved in the Kyoto process will thus continue to lobby against any more realistic accounting practice.
Additionally, the importing countries would be loath to take on responsibility for ultimately managing any carbon dioxide releases from the wood we export to them. They obviously prefer to see potential emissions accounted for by Canada at the moment of harvest.
The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development is currently studying means to implement Kyoto. Perhaps forest experts and Canada’s negotiators will be invited to explain ways to change to accounting procedures which more realistically tally forest related emissions and removals. Canada took a wooden nickel when she ratified Kyoto, She must become much more aggressive and proactive in seeking ways to rectify her untenable position.