Rome, Italy 1 - 5 March 1999


1. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted at UNCED in 1992) aims at stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere in an effort to prevent human-caused disturbances to the global climatic system. The Convention commits the Parties to carry out national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, and to work toward meeting their voluntary emissions reduction goals. Under the UNFCCC, a pilot phase for "activities implemented jointly" (AIJ) has been established to test and evaluate the feasibility of achieving the Convention's objectives through cooperative projects between Parties, which are designed to avoid, sequester or reduce GHG emissions. As of 30 August 1998, there were 97 AIJ projects, 14 of which in the forest sector.

2. Forests play a significant role in moderating the net flux of GHGs between land and atmosphere. Forests act as reservoirs by storing carbon in biomass and soils. They act as carbon sinks when their area or productivity is increased, resulting in greater uptake of atmospheric CO2. Conversely, they act as a source of GHGs when the burning and decay of biomass and the disturbance of soil result in emissions of CO2 and other GHGs. Changes in land use (primarily deforestation occurring mainly in tropical areas) currently constitute about 20 percent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Appropriate forest management decisions can result in cost-effective net reductions in GHG emissions, either by diminishing the contribution of forests to global net emissions, or by enhancing their importance as carbon sinks. By providing renewable materials and fuels - thereby reducing reliance on fossil fuels - and still maintaining their role as carbon reservoirs, forests can make a long-term contribution to mitigating climate change.

3. The magnitude of benefits available through forest sector activities will depend upon the amount of land available, improvements in forest productivity, and technical developments that allow more efficient harvesting and use of forest products.

4. Various forestry practices have a role in helping to slow the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere:

5. The quantification of forest contributions to mitigate CO2 emissions will require comprehensive accounting of the associated carbon sources and sinks over time, and comprehensive analysis of the other environmental and socioeconomic criteria that influence forest management choices.

6. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that between 1995 and 2050, global carbon sequestration from reduced deforestation, forest regeneration, and increased development of plantations and agroforestry could amount to 12 to 15 percent of fossil-fuel carbon emissions.

7. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the Third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) to the UNFCCC (Kyoto, Japan, December 1997). It established legally-binding commitments from Annex I countries (developed countries and countries with economies in transition) to reduce their overall emissions of six GHGs to at least 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 (first commitment period), and by making provisions for the use of man-made land-use change and forestry activities to define and meet national emission reduction targets.

None of the mechanisms has clear and determined principles, modalities, procedures, rules or guidelines.

9. The language used in the Kyoto Protocol is therefore undergoing intense scrutiny and many key issues have yet to be resolved. At its eighth session (June 1998) the Subsidiary Body on Technical and Scientific Advice (SBSTA) requested that the IPCC produce a special report by June 2000 on "Carbon emissions from sources and removals by sinks from land use, land-use change and forestry." The report, to be finalized by June 2000, is intended to help clarify the implications of the Kyoto Protocol for land-use sectors changes. A detailed outline for the report was finalized and possible lead authors and reviewers were identified at a meeting organized by the IPCC at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy (September 1998) and FAO will contribute to the study. Moreover, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) also organized a Workshop on Article 3.3 at FAO Headquarters (September 1998), at which FAO specialists presented the methodology used and elements on definitions for discussion and a second SBSTA Workshop will be held in the USA (March 1999)

Outcome of COP-4

10. COP-4 (November 1998) adopted a detailed decision that included a work programme on mechanisms (FCCC/CP/1998/L.21). The programme foresees, inter alia, the prioritization of the CDM; a final decision at COP-6 on Protocol Article 6 (emission reduction units), Article 12 (clean development mechanism) and Article 17 (emissions trading); and a plan to be prepared by the Secretariat for facilitating the participation in the CDM of developing country Parties (especially the small island States and the least developed countries).

11. A COP-4 decision on land use, land use change and forestry (FCCC/CP/1998/L.5) provided, among other things, clarification of the interpretation of Article 3.3 on Party's assigned amount of verifiable changes in carbon stocks, and endorsed the conclusions of the 8th session of the SBSTA on this subject. The Committee also recommended that the COP, after the completion of the special report of the IPCC, adopt draft decisions:

12. The IPCC's "Revised 1996 Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories" were not designed to produce inventories of land-use change and forestry related to activities such as afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation. Therefore, additional work may be needed to put in place modalities, rules and guidelines for implementing the land-use change and forestry provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

13. The GHG benefits from land-use change and forestry activities may involve a higher level of uncertainty and a lower level of permanence than GHG benefits from activities in other sectors, particularly the energy sector. Therefore, some Parties have expressed concern about relying on emission reductions in the land-use change and forestry sector.

14. Further work is needed to clarify which land-use change and forestry activities may qualify for inclusion in domestic GHG mitigation programmes, the exchange of project-based GHG emission reductions among Annex I Parties, and CDM projects under the Kyoto Protocol. The question of whether forestry projects in the tropics aimed at carbon sequestration will be eligible for certified emission reduction credits under the CDM is crucial to the emerging Global Carbon Market.

15. Key terms in the Kyoto Protocol, such as "reforestation" and "forest", need to be defined precisely; others, such as "below ground biomass" in measuring land cover, are difficult to quantify.

16. FAO assisted the IPCC and the Secretariat of the UNFCCC (SBSTA) with advice regarding terminology and consistency of definitions and methodologies, and participated in the Dakar Workshop of the IPCC on "Harvested forest products" (May 1998).

17. Several officers of the Forestry Department are members of the FAO's ad hoc Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate, which coordinates FAO's activities and inputs in relation to the UNFCCC. A Forestry Task Force on Carbon Sequestration, including officers of the Forestry Department and members from interested units in other departments, was established in July 1998 to promote and coordinate work in this specific field.

18. FAO is disseminating information to Member Countries on the prospects for the forestry sector under the Kyoto Protocol. Three regional publications are being produced at the regional level. "Carbon dioxide offset investment in the Asia-Pacific forestry sector: opportunities and constraints" was published in May 1998. A similar publication for Latin America and the Caribbean is due in February 1999, and a third one for Africa is in preparation.

19. Projects to support countries interested in developing their activities under the Kyoto Protocol are also being formulated, such as a Netherlands trust fund project for the Central American sub-region.

20. In the long term, future FAO assistance to the UNFCCC and to Member Countries for the implementation of the Protocol could consist of:

21. If the CDM includes carbon forestry projects in developing countries aimed at carbon sequestration, FAO may have a very important role in advising both investors and governments on technical aspects of project identification; in project formulation and implementation in both the carbon sequestration and carbon substitution areas; and possibly in the certification of emission reduction credits.

22. The modalities of future collaboration between FAO and the Secretariat of the UNFCCC in these areas need to be worked out. Further consideration is also required regarding modalities for relevant inter-agency efforts to be conducted by some of the organizations represented on the Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests (as discussed at the August 1998 session of the ITFF).