Forestry in the Kyoto Protocol

The aim of the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and all related agreements is to '[A]chieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system' (UNFCCC, 1992, Article 2).

The atmosphere can be characterized as an unmanaged commons; unmanaged in a sense that for all of history, until the Kyoto Protocol (United Nations, 1998) under the UNFCCC entered into force in February 2005, there was no control over greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to the atmosphere.

The UNFCCC was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the signatories agreeing that the greater responsibility for reducing GHG emissions in the near term rested with the developed/ industrialized nations, listed in Annex I of the Convention (UNFCCC, 1992). The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was adopted at Conference of the Parties (COP) 3, in December 1997, in Kyoto. Most industrialized countries and some central European economies in transition (defined as Annex B countries) agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. The reduction commitment of each country is listed in Annex B of the Protocol (United Nations, 1998).

The Protocol has immense significance in that it is recognition by most countries that there is no effective way to manage the global commons other than by capping global emissions. At the close of 2008 the US and Kazakhstan were the only signatory nations, of which there were 185, not to have ratified the protocol (UNFCCC, 2008a).

As of January 2008, running through 2012, Annex B countries must record and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), achieving a collective average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. (The six greenhouse gases covered by the Protocol that together constitute CO2e, being weighted according to their global warming potential, are listed in Appendix A of the Protocol.) The overall cut by Annex B countries corresponds to an average cut of some 15 percent below business-as-usual emissions in 2008. The global cap can be tightened progressively to achieve future global targets of CO2e concentrations in the atmosphere.

Under the UNFCCC all parties, industrialized and developing, are called upon to develop national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions by sources and by removals by sinks, according to the guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The historical development of guidelines for the establishment of national inventories is covered by Schlamadinger et al. (2007a). The IPCC (2006) guidelines unify the guidelines previously provided separately for agriculture and land-use change and forestry.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, assigned allocation units (AAUs), each of one tonne of CO2e, make up a country's assigned amount of emissions. International emissions trading (Article 17) allows Annex B countries to sell their surplus AAUs, as measured against their Protocol target, to other Annex B countries that are in deficit. The price of an AAU is set in the market and depends on the severity of the cap on emissions. Most Annex B countries have emissions levels above their targets. They are thus in the market to purchase AAUs. Several Annex B countries, for example Russia and the Ukraine, have emissions below their target and these are in the market to sell their surplus reduction units.

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