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Bali, UNFCCC, after Kyoto

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 10:46 PM GMT on December 10, 2007

Bali, UNFCCC, after Kyoto

In the many comments of the last blog were mentions of the meeting in Bali. First a little background. The meeting in Bali is called the Conference of Parties (conference link) and includes the nations that are part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC site. The UNFCCC was negotiated in the early part of the 1990s, and the US did sign the Framework Convention. It is, in fact, part of our environmental law. It preceded the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCCC called for, amongst other things, voluntary control of carbon dioxide emissions. The Kyoto Protocol had specific emission targets; it was signed by the United States, but it was not sent to the Senate for ratification. The decision to not send it for ratification was during the Clinton-Gore administration; it was certain that it would not be ratified.

Figure 1: Chart of commitments made in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (thanks to Rosina Bierbaum, SuperDean)

The meeting in Bali was not, first and foremost, a meeting of scientists. It is a meeting to talk about how to respond to the assessments presented by the IPCC. Some people talk about it as what comes after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. (For fun here are links to UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, and a nice introduction to the Kyoto Protocol.) This is a big meeting, with a lot of people, and a lot of spectacle. There is not a real expectation that new policy will be formed at the meeting, but the people, the countries are stating and re-stating their positions.

There are two big notions that seem to rise out of the meeting. The first is the statement, or really restatement, that if we want to limit the atmospheric carbon dioxide to, approximately, double the amount in 1850, then we need to do something in the next decade. This amount is 550 parts per million and the model predictions show that even at this amount there will be consequential climate change. There is a May 2007 WU blog entry about this need to take action soon if we want to limit the carbon dioxide to 550 parts per million. The reported discussions from Bali show the diversity of opinions and accusations – and the United States once again maintains the position of requiring economic growth – hence, the need for cheap energy.

The second big notion is trees. There is a lot of talk about trees and how if we stop cutting down trees we will slow the release of carbon dioxide, and if we plant more trees then they will consume carbon dioxide. The issue of trees is complex. There is no doubt that having more trees is good for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, but trees are not a magic solution to the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. First, trees have a finite lifetime, and they have a finite ability to take up carbon dioxide. Second, trees take a lot of water, and planting a lot of trees in a place like Phoenix, Arizona is trading one environmental stress for another.

Nevertheless, the role of trees in climate change is an important one. In anticipation of a growing environmental market that places a value on carbon dioxide emissions, countries, such as Indonesia, are starting to think of their standing stock of forest in terms of carbon dioxide valuation. This starts to give the rain forests value that can be weighed against value as, for instance, lumber, food cropland, or bio-fuels cropland. This becomes a mechanism for conservation and management of forestry resources that includes some valuation of the climate.

My student Gabriel Thoumi is in Bali. He has spent much of the year in Indonesia setting up and negotiating policies and businesses to give valuation of the carbon dioxide stored in trees and how to use that valuation in the mitigation of climate change. Gabriel contributed to an effort with a group of Green Governors whose states hold a large portion of the Earth’s rain forests. Here is a paragraph from the press release announcing the efforts of this group of governors.

“The destruction of tropical forests accounts for about 20% of global carbon emissions – more than the entire global transport sector. The UK government’s 2005 Stern Review identified forest protection and limitation of deforestation as being quick and cost-effective avenues for reducing global carbon emissions – yet until now they have barely featured in governments’ plans to tackle climate change. By acting to protect forests and reduce emissions from deforestation now, on their own lands, the Governors have sent a strong message to their national governments and have opened the door to millions of dollars of potential investments from carbon markets. Already investments are beginning to flow, both from voluntary carbon markets and from private investments to protect the ecosystem services forests provide to humanity.”

Here is the whole press release, with information on how to get more information.

Forests Now Press Release
Green Governors’ Press Release


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.