Developments In Measuring Carbon In Forests

The Kyoto Protocol requires nations to estimate the quantity of CO2e emitted and the C sequestered during the first commitment period of 20082012. Estimates of carbon sequestration in plantations at regional and national levels are needed by governments to evaluate success in meeting their international obligations on climate change. Reliable methods of estimation of carbon sequestered in plantations are also required at the project level. Investors require estimates of carbon for projects in-country, in developing countries for projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) UNFCCC, or in other Annex B countries in the case of Joint Implementation. To ensure that climate change policy objectives are being met and to create efficient markets it is imperative that a tonne of CO2e claimed to have been removed from the atmosphere by plantations or sequestered in the form of carbon in a tropical forest is in fact equivalent to a tonne of CO2e avoided by other projects.

The estimation of the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by plantations faces several unique difficulties, however. The carbon in A/R is found in varying quantities in the stems of trees, depending on the density of the wood, and in branches, leaves and roots, as well as in understory vegetation. Under plantations, there may be a significant change in carbon in the litter on the forest floor and in soil carbon. Moreover, carbon is sequestered over time and may be at different rates in different locations for the same tree species, depending on environmental factors such as rainfall and soil type. There are also random threats to the integrity of plantations such as disease, pests, fire and cyclones, as well as periodic harvesting episodes, making timely measurement a necessity if estimates of carbon sequestered are to be reliable.

The direct and accurate method for the estimation of the above-ground biomass in plantations is to harvest the trees, oven-dry them and to weigh the dry matter. A universal rule is applied in estimating the carbon in trees, that is, half the biomass. This ratio was confirmed by Gifford (2000) under Australian conditions. Root biomass is typically estimated to be 25 percent of above-ground biomass (Ulrich et al., 1981). The direct method of drying is, however, prohibitively destructive and time-consuming. Other more practical methods have been developed that extrapolate the results of measurement of standing trees.

In Australia, a sophisticated Carbon Accounting Model for Forests (CAMFor) has been developed that integrates information from a range of sources in a 'toolbox' in the National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS). It combines remote sensing information from satellites, with local environmental data and user inputs, and employs sophisticated carbon accounting and modeling of land-use change (Australian Government, 2007).

After a worldwide search for carbon measurement systems the Clinton Climate Initiative selected the NCAS as the platform for a global rollout in developing countries. The overall aim of the partnership between the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Australian Government is to develop the system for use in large-scale REDD projects in developing countries so that these can be linked with carbon trading markets. The system will be consistent with the guidance provided by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and will anticipate the future needs of the UNFCCC. A web-based data delivery system will allow free and open access to a vast array of data from satellites, aircraft and field measurements (Australian Government, 2008).

The sophisticated methods of measuring forests such as remote sensing will be assessed later in the chapter. The next section is a case study of the estimation of carbon in north Queensland rainforest (see Figure 5.2 for study location) by both physical measurement of the standing forest and by use of Australia's CAMFor.

Figure 5.2 The study area for the measurement of carbon in forest sinks is the Atherton Tableland in the Wet Tropics Region of north Queensland, Australia

Study area

Figure 5.2 The study area for the measurement of carbon in forest sinks is the Atherton Tableland in the Wet Tropics Region of north Queensland, Australia

Study area

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