Item 9 of the Provisional Agenda


Rome, Italy, 12-16 March 2001


Secretariat Note


1. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as a consequence of the worldwide concern over global warming. It aims at stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere in an effort to prevent human-induced disturbances to the global climate system. Carbon dioxide has been identified as the most important GHG. The Convention commits the Parties included in Annex I to carry out national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, and to work toward meeting voluntary goals in the reduction of emissions. A Conference of Parties (CoP) of the signatory countries was established to promote the effective implementation of the latter.

2. Under the UNFCCC, a pilot phase of "activities implemented jointly" (AIJ) was started to test and evaluate the feasibility of achieving the Convention's objectives. AIJs are cooperative projects between the Parties designed to avoid, sequester or reduce GHG emissions.

3. The third Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, adopted by consensus an additional legally-binding commitment, the so-called "Kyoto Protocol" (KP). Thirty-nine developed countries and countries with economies in transition (Annex B countries) commit themselves to reduce between 2008 and 2012 GHG emissions by overall at least 5 percent compared to 1990 levels. The emission cuts range from -8 percent for most European and some other countries to +10 percent for Iceland. Within the European Union, a redistribution of the overall target amongst its member countries is permitted; this redistribution scheme is called "bubble". Some countries, e.g. Germany, have additionally committed themselves to reduce GHG emissions within 2005 by 25 percent compared to the 1990 figures.

4. Three "flexible mechanisms" for the mitigation of climate change were agreed upon: (a) trading with quantified emission limitations and reduction obligations (QUELRO, between Annex I countries); (b) Joint Implementation (JI of emission reduction projects between Annex I countries); and (c) the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM, between Annex I countries and those not included in Annex I).


5. Forests act as reservoirs by storing carbon in biomass and soils and as carbon sinks when their area or productivity are increased, resulting in greater uptake of atmospheric CO2. Conversely, they are a source of GHGs when biomass burns or decays. Changes in land use (primarily deforestation in tropical areas) currently constitute about 20 percent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

6. Various forestry practices play a significant role in helping to slow down the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere: conservation management, storage management, and substitution management.

7. The quantification of forests' contribution to emission reductions will require comprehensive accounting of the associated carbon sources and sinks over time, and a comprehensive analysis of other environmental and socio-economic criteria that influence forest management choices.

8. 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 correspond to 12-15 percent of the carbon emissions from fossil fuels.


9. While the UNFCCC mentions forestry only briefly, the Kyoto Protocol deals explicitly with forestry: Article 2 mentions that Annex I Parties shall implement and/or further elaborate policies and measures .... such as .... promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation and reforestation.

10. Other aspects of relevance to the forestry community in the KP are sections on Afforestation, Deforestation and Reforestation (Article 3.3), as well as on sources and sinks, including soil and biomass storage (Article 3.4) and their estimation (Article 5); on trade in emission reduction units1 (Article 6), annual reporting (Article 7), review and control mechanisms (Article 8), improved methodologies to assess emissions and sinks (Article 10), and especially the CDM, which is described in Article 12.

11. The double purpose of the CDM is to assist developing country Parties in achieving sustainable development and developed-country Parties to achieve compliance with their emission limitations and reduction commitments. The CDM will allow Annex I Parties and Non-annex I Parties to implement jointly projects which will result in certified emission limitations. This mechanism complements the tradable permit approach between Annex I Parties.

12. The details of the implementation of the CDM are still being debated, in particular regarding the fossil fuel substitution by biofuels, and the admissibility of forest- and soil carbon pools as sinks.

13. The Special Report on Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry, submitted by IPCC to the Parties at the twelfth session of the Subsidiary Body of Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) in June 2000 in Bonn, Germany, helped to cast more light on the role and potential of forests within the international mechanisms related to climate change.


14. Formal climate-related work in FAO started as early as 1968 when FAO, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established the Interagency Group on Agricultural Biometeorology. Later on, FAO launched the agro-ecological zones Project (AEZ) and the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS).

15. The Kyoto Protocol clearly stresses the active participation of international organisations in international climate issues. UNFCCC lists several categories of countries which will require specific assistance. They include: small island countries, countries with low-lying coastal areas, countries with arid and semi-arid areas, forested areas and areas liable to forest decay, countries with areas prone to natural disasters, countries with areas liable to drought and desertification, and eventually countries with areas with fragile ecosystems, including mountainous ecosystems.

16. FAO and its members are faced with several challenges directly or indirectly deriving from the current climate negotiations. These include new obligations (commitments) and new opportunities linked with the fact that carbon may now become a new "commodity" which has to be monitored, quantified and sometimes managed differently than in the past, as well as a renewed raison d'�tre for several activities in which FAO has been involved and which are being requested by climate change interests. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Parties have to formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change in the energy, transport and industry sectors as well as in agriculture and forestry.

17. FAO's role in the implementation of the climate-related framework covers the following functions:

Repository of Data and Information

18. FAO's Forest Information System with its Forest Resources Assessments (FRA) provides the most comprehensive global data set on the world's forests and may thus become an important basis for carbon accounting under the Kyoto Protocol. FAO's assessment work on wood fuel data and on wood energy systems is also important.

19. FAO hosts the secretariat for the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), established jointly by FAO, the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNESCO and WMO in 1996, to provide policy makers, resource managers and the research community with the long-term data they need to detect global change and to assess the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to support sustainable development. One of its priority areas is climate change and GTOS is now leading the development of a Terrestrial Carbon Observation Initiative (TCOI) which is aimed at assisting countries to assess and monitor carbon sources and sinks in the agricultural and rural sectors of their countries through the systematic collection of carbon-related data using ground and satellite observations. TCOI is intended to fill data and information gaps in the terrestrial carbon cycle and build globally consistent carbon data sets that will eventually be required under the UNFCCC. Both activities fill a gap in the data requirements of the UNFCCC.

Custodian of definitions, guidelines, methods, models

20. FAO contributes to the harmonization of the different Criteria & Indicator processes and certification schemes, to the drafting of regional and national codes of practice, and to wood energy systems.

Neutral forum

21. FAO provides a neutral forum for experts to exchange views and improve the knowledge of issues related to climate change through expert consultations. Recently, FAO examined the complex relations between land degradation, carbon sequestration and biodiversity in a joint FAO/IFAD Expert Meeting (1999), has co-sponsored the Expert Workshop on Carbon Sequestration, Sustainable Agriculture and Poverty Alleviation held in WMO (Geneva) in August 2000, and in September 2000 conducted an expert meeting on Verification of Country Level Carbon Stocks and Exchanges for Non-Annex I countries.

Provider of capacity building and information

22. FAO has conducted regional workshops on the implications of climate change issues for the forest sector in Honduras (1999) and on the issues connected with land use, land-use change and forestry in Bolivia (2000). To inform interested parties in Latin American countries on the issue, El Protocolo de Kyoto y el Mecanismo para un Desarrollo Limpio - Nuevas Posibilidades para el Sector Forestal de Am�rica Latina y el Caribe was published in 1999, and a similar document for Africa is presently under preparation. A study on Climate Change and the Forestry Sector: Possible Legal Responses and their Implications was carried out in 2000.


23. For the information of COFO member countries, the following areas of FAO's work in relation to climate change are planned to be strengthened.

24. FAO has established an ad hoc Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate in Relation to Agriculture and Food Security, which coordinates climate-related activities of the Legal, Agriculture, Economic & Social, Forestry, Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Development Departments. Strengthening this working group will allow the Organization to be more proactive at all levels, from the international scene to forest communities.

25. Assistance in capacity building on forestry and climate change has been requested by Parties from developing countries at the twelfth SBSTA meeting in June 2000, as well as at the different Regional Forestry Commissions held in 2000 FAO plans cooperation with UNEP, CIFOR and other Agencies to jointly prepare a capacity building programme and seek extra-budgetary funding for its implementation.

26. FAO intends to develop closer and more systematic collaboration with the UNFCCC Secretariat and with IPCC regarding, for example, definitions, which are extremely important in the international legal framework. FAO will assist in the development of guidelines and methods.

27. The Organization will continue to offer a neutral forum for technical experts to discuss issues of relevance in connection with forestry and climate change issues.

28. FAO will encourage synergies and collaboration in the forestry domain between the UNFCCC and the other sector-relevant conventions, in particular desertification (UNCCD), wetlands (RAMSAR) and biodiversity (CBD).