HAGUE TALKS END WITHOUT AGREEMENT
From: Jim Jontz
Date: November 29, 2000
No agreement is better than a bad agreement, but it is disappointing that the international climate change talks ended in The Hague this past Saturday without resolving any of the important issues around implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. In the end, the U.S. retreated from its original meritless proposal to claim as much as half of the nation's obligation for carbon sequestration from "business as usual" forestry. But the Europeans didn't feel comfortable with what the U.S. put on the table at the last minute, and no agreement was reached.
If there is good news from The Hague, it is that forests are at the center of the controversy over how industrialized nations meet their obligation to reduce greenhouse gases. Failure to reach an agreement now could, in fact, result in a better agreement later -- IF forests are addressed in a much more responsible manner than they were at COP-6.
Environmental groups were united in rejecting the U.S. proposal to count "business as usual" forestry for a substantial part of its obligation. Business as usual forestry means giving the U.S. and other nations credit for doing nothing, in essence, except for managing forests the way they would have been managed anyway. That's not doing anything for climate, and it's not good for forests, either! Just look at the massive clearcutting of the South to feed chip mills, the short rotation logging of industry land in the Northwest that is killing salmon, and the pitiful state of logged over areas in Maine's North Woods to understand why "business as usual" isn't acceptable.
In the end, the U.S. still insisted on counting some "business as usual" forestry. Had trust in the U.S. evaporated because of the ridiculous proposal they put on the table early in the week? Did the U.S. wait too late to put a serious proposal on the table that the Europeans could consider? It is disapointing that an agreement wasn't reached, but what is equally disappointing -- and perhaps a source of hope -- is that the
issue of what kind of forestry activities would be counted never really got on the table at. The U.S. should give up on "business as usual" forestry: "that dog don't hunt." But what about real protection of forests, real steps to reduce the role of logging in generating greenhouse gases, and real steps to increase the natural capacity of forest ecosytems to collect and store carbon? Regrettably, neither the U.S. nor the Europeans considered how qualitative limits could promote the right forest activities, protection and restoration.
Look at our nation's landscape. Eastern forests have an enormous capacity for regeneration: ample rainfall, good soils, a long growing season in the South. Open space is desperately needed, as is relief from the industrial forestry practices that are murdering biodiversity in areas like the Southern Appalachians. Look at the Northwest too, including the North Coast of California, the Coast Range of Oregon, and the "checkerboard" lands east of the Cascades. Massive industrial logging has resulted in forests that are a pale shadow of their former selves. Why wouldn't the U.S. want rules that would open the door for restoration of these forests, soaking up enormous amounts of carbon and providing the many other public benefits of healthy, mature forests?
The U.S. should wake up to the opportunities that would be created by proposing strict rules limiting forestry activities under Kyoto to real forest protection and restoration. A greater commitment to reducing
emissions, and forest rules that limit creditable activities to real forest protection and restoration -- how could the Europeans turn down such a proposal? Unfortunately, it was never made at The Hague. Let's hope that it can be made at the next international climate meeting in Germany this spring, for the sake of climate and forests bot