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Counting Forests for Kyoto

Item #d98aug36

The committee that is developing the detailed rules and regulations of the Kyoto Protocol has agreed that any changes in forest biomass since 1990 should be counted in determining the net emissions of CO2 by countries, according to a news report by Jocelyn Kaiser in Science 28, 504-597 (July 24, 1998). Indeed, 38 countries are required to determine their carbon emissions for the year 1990 and in 2008 to start reducing those emissions by a specified amount (7% for the USA).

Considering that deforestation accounts for about 20% of the CO2 emitted worldwide, the treatment of forests in the establishment of this 1990 baseline is very important. But no country has a definitive inventory of forests for that time, and thus has no defensible values for the CO2 emissions from and absorption by those forests. What is needed is a combination of remote sensing with ground-based monitoring to provide a comprehensive and consistent record of forest carbon stocks. Then scientists and diplomats could determine, for example, how much CO2 would be released if a given area of a forest were razed for cropland. On the other hand, if the forest were conserved, credits could be calculated for reducing the country’s CO2 emissions. All of these calculations would have to take into consideration the different types of forest (i.e., slowly regenerating vs. fast-growing stands) to arrive at reasonable estimates of emissions production or avoidance.

In response to this need, ecologists and foresters are combing the world’s forests trying to accurately assess the carbon content of the biomass and soil contained therein. In addition, a series of towers are being installed in the United States, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere to determine the CO2 flux of the forests there.

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