Cowie, A.L., Kirschbaum, M.U.F., Ward, M. (2007). Options for including all lands in a future greenhouse gas accounting framework. Environmental Science and Policy 10: 306-321.


Abstract. The current framework through which greenhouse gas emissions and removals in the land use sector are accounted under the Kyoto Protocol has several problems. They include a complex structure, onerous monitoring and reporting requirements, and potential for omission of some important fluxes. One solution that may overcome some of these problems is to include all lands and associated processes within a country’s jurisdiction, rather than restrict accounting to specific nominated land categories or activities. Ideally, the accounting approach should cover all significant biospheric sources and sinks, avoid biased or unbalanced accounting, avoid leakage and require no arbitrary adjustments to remedy unintended consequences. Furthermore, accounting should focus on the direct human-induced component of biospheric emissions/removals so that debits/credits can be allocated equitably and provide appropriate incentives to adopt land-use management options with beneficial outcomes for the atmosphere.


This paper focuses on biospheric emissions and removals resulting from carbon stock changes. It considers four alternative accounting options that include all land areas: Gross-Net Accounting, Net-Net Accounting, Net Accounting with Negotiated Baselines and the Average Carbon Stocks approach. Each option is described, and assessed with respect to defined criteria for effectiveness. Gross-Net Accounting and Net-Net Accounting do not adequately distinguish the anthropogenic component of carbon-stock changes from indirect and natural effects, so large undeserved credits or debits could be created. Under Net Accounting with Negotiated Baselines, countries’ projected emissions and removals during the commitment period would be taken into account in the negotiation of emissions targets. In the commitment period, countries would then gain credits/debits for biospheric removals/emissions. Difficulties with this approach would lie in reaching agreed baselines for emissions and removals for individual countries, and, if desired, in factoring out residual effects of natural variability on emissions/removals. Under the Average Carbon Stocks approach, debits/credits for changes in land use or management practices would be based on the changes in long-term average carbon stocks associated with changes in specific land use and management regimes. This approach thereby directly identifies the anthropogenic component, and assigns debits and credits accordingly. It may prove problematic, however, for countries to accept long-term averages rather than observable realised carbon-stock changes as the basis for accounting. Thus, none of the options is without its drawbacks, but Net Accounting with Negotiated Baselines and the Average Carbon Stocks approach could potentially be used as the basis of developing a future ‘all lands’ accounting framework


Keywords: Net-Net Accounting, Average Carbon Stocks, Kyoto Protocol, LULUCF, AFOLU, Carbon credit, Climate change

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