World Rainforest Movement

Can expansion of plantations be a solution to combat Global Warming?

Large scale overseas plantation projects planned by Japan’s paper industry cannot be accepted in joint implementation or in the Clean Development Mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol to combat climate change.

What is actually resulting from plantations is forest degradation and related carbon emissions. At the same time, carbon contained in the wood that is extracted from plantations is released almost immediately in the case of pulpwood plantations, because wood is transformed into paper, much of which is short-lived, thereby releasing the stored carbon back to the atmosphere. Before assessing any CDM projects, it is therefore necessary to close a number of loopholes contained in forestry accounting.

1. The expansion of plantations was part of ‘forest degradation’ in the 1980s, causing loss of closed forests and carbon emissions.

In order to achieve high precision estimates of deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, the FAO conducted a satellite sampling research (“Forest Resource Assessment 1990”, FAO 1995). This land use change measurement by the FAO can be utilized in the context of Global Warming. Estimates are based on the concept of Carbon Stock Change method accounting, which is one candidate to be used in the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

According to the satellite image analysis, in the 1980s, 75% of the new tree plantations in developing countries in the tropics were made by replacing closed natural forest that had existed there ten years earlier. Plantation projects therefore serve as agents of destruction for natural forests. Most of these new plantations may be for oil palm or pulpwood production purposes.

Original tropical forest stores biomass at average rates of 220 tonnes per hectare. Typical plantations store biomass at average rates of 120 tonnes per hectare. A decrease of 100 tonnes of biomass is equivalent to roughly 50 tonne-carbon, or 183 tonne-CO2 emission. Therefore, the 3.95 million hectares of forest converted to plantations in the 1980s means 725 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The result of initial logging and subsequent plantation is therefore an increase in the net carbon emissions that contribute to global warming,and accounted for as ‘forest degradation’. Although remaining plantations can sequester carbon dioxide, part of that carbon is extracted as timber or other products, while net Carbon Stock remains constant in the remaining plantations.

High expansion rate of plantations is expected in the future, just as the case in the 1980s, which expanded plantation area 25% within the decade, so the total plantation related carbon accounting is net ’emission’ of carbon dioxide.

2. Consumption patterns are essential for Carbon Stock estimates

Most afforestation schemes such as those initiated by Japanese paper companies are large scale and involve profitable non-native species. This extension overseas of Japan’s “expanded forestation” paradigm is causing social, environmental and human rights problems in many targetted areas.

In the process of pulp and paper production, more than half of the carbon stored in the woodchip is consumed as a biomass energy resource and emitted into the air as CO2. Paper products are subsequently used for only one year on average. Half of these products are then recycled, but the other half are burned as waste producing further CO2 emissions.

Wood used for pulp and paper production is therefore fundamentally different from timber products that are used on a longer term basis as the timber industry claims. Rather it should be treated as the same usage as fuelwood.

3. IPCC’s guideline of Sink inventory is contradictory, thus causing a loophole.

Cutting activities are accounted for the host country’s activity by now, while part of planting credit will be given to the donor country. This is a carbon leakage problem, which allows the developed country to abandon its emission reduction target. A trade related cost internalization scheme, such as traded timber vs Annual Allowance Unit barter trading or simply barter accounting scheme should be developed to close the loophole.

Reference: Forest Resources Assessment 1990 (Global Synthesis, 1995, FAO Forestry paper No. 124)

Source: Tadashi Ogura, Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN)