The scientific consensus is now clear that humans are altering the climate system, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. During a major conference in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, Department of State officials and counterparts from many other countries discussed measures to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change.
Global climate change is the premier environmental challenge and opportunity of the 21st century, and the risks it poses justify sensible preventive steps. Addressing this issue is one of the United States^ greatest imperatives, for this and future generations. Recognizing the solid foundation of climate science, the U.S. Government is committed to strong and sensible action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions--including realistic and binding emissions targets.
Fact sheet released by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs U.S. Department of State, August 1, 2000: The United States today released detailed views concerning the role of forests and agricultural lands under the Kyoto Protocol.
U.S. views were described in a submission under the Framework Convention on Climate Change ("Framework Convention").
Carbon sinks can play an important role in meeting the challenge of climate change. Today, managed lands remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Reducing the rate of deforestation and increasing the rate of sequestration through improved forest and cropland management would result in even greater net removals of carbon from the atmosphere, counterbalancing in part the effects of fossil fuel emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol clearly recognized the positive role of carbon sinks in assisting countries in addressing climate change and meeting their targets, but leaves open the exact ways that sinks will count. One of the central issues at the next Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention (scheduled for November 13-24 in The Hague) will be to elaborate the Protocol^s carbon sinks provisions.
Currently, the Protocol addresses only a few limited land-use change activities such as reforestation and deforestation. The inclusion of other land-use activities such as forest, cropland and grazing land management will require a decision of the Parties. In preparation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently completed a detailed study on the role of land use, land-use change and forestry in combating climate change, providing essential scientific information for sound decisions on sinks at COP-6.
The United States has long supported a comprehensive approach to emissions and removals of greenhouse gases from managed lands under the Kyoto Protocol. The United States believes that a comprehensive approach would best account for the full range of natural and human activities that could affect the global climate system.
In today^s submission, the United States:
* Strongly reaffirms the important role of forests and agricultural lands in meeting the challenge of climate change.
* Insists that decisions be based on sound science.
* Proposes strong incentives to remove carbon from the atmosphere through sound land management and to protect existing reservoirs of carbon, for example those in mature forests.
* Proposes inclusion of broad land management categories -- e.g. forest management, cropland management, and grazing land management -- together with comprehensive greenhouse gas accounting.
o Rejects narrower approaches, citing its concerns about incompleteness, difficulty of measurement, and potentially unbalanced treatment of emissions and removals.
* Is willing to consider a "phase-in" for the first commitment period (2008 to 2012) to address the concerns of some countries about the effect of comprehensive greenhouse gas accounting on the first budget period targets.
o Under a phase-in, countries would receive credit towards meeting their first budget period targets for only a portion of their total net removals of carbon from land management activities. Possible approaches to a phase-in include applying a discount rate or counting removals only above a pre-defined threshold. The exact approach will require further negotiations, but must ensure that the United States receives significant credit for the substantial sequestrations by its forests, as contemplated at Kyoto.
* Strongly supports rules -- including definitions of key terms such as reforestation -- that help protect forests and avoid creating "perverse incentives" (for example, to log old growth forests).
* Proposes a strict accounting system that looks at the total impact of land management on carbon stock changes, including both emissions and removals, and that requires Parties to be able to accurately monitor and verify emissions and removals.
The comprehensive, broad-based approach proposed by the United States:
* Provides the greatest long-term incentive to protect existing carbon reservoirs, increase carbon removals, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through better land management practices.
* Best reflects "what the atmosphere sees".
* Prevents countries from picking and choosing only those activities that sequester carbon, while ignoring other activities that emit carbon.
* Is easier to monitor and verify than activity-based accounting.
* Allows flexibility and provides incentives to develop new land management practices.
* Minimizes leakage and double counting.
* Addresses many of the accounting problems identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its recent scientific report on carbon sinks.
* Provides substantial "co-benefits," since practices that enhance carbon also tend to improve soil, water and air quality, and maintain biodiversity in forests.
While the U.S. projects it would remove approximately 300 million tons of carbon per year through land management activities during the Kyoto commitment period, the actual number of credits that will count towards meeting the U.S. target will depend on the outcome of discussions on a phase-in approach.