, Volume 67, Issue 2-3, pp 449-460

Bridging Political Expectations and Scientific Limitations in Climate Risk Management – On the Uncertain Effects of International Carbon Sink Policies*

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Abstract

Despite great advances in carbon cycle research during the past decade the climatic impact of terrestrial ecosystems is still highly uncertain. Although contemporary studies suggest that the terrestrial biosphere has acted as a net sink to atmospheric carbon during the past two decades, the future role of terrestrial carbon pools is most difficult to foresee. When land use change and forestry activities were included into the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the requirements for scientific precision increased significantly. At the same time the political expectations of carbon sequestration as climate mitigation strategy added uncertainties of a social kind to the study of land-atmosphere carbon exchange that have been difficult to address by conventional scientific methods. In this paper I explore how the failure to take into account the effects of direct human activity in scientific projections of future terrestrial carbon storage has resulted in a simplified appreciation of the risks embedded in a global carbon sequestration scheme. I argue that the social limits to scientific analysis must be addressed in order to accommodate these risks in future climate governance and to enable continued scientific authority in the international climate regime.