Accounting for time in Mitigating Global Warming through land-use change and forestry

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Abstract

Many proposed activities formitigating global warming in the land-use change and forestry(LUCF) sector differ from measures to avoid fossilfuel emissions because carbon (C) may be held out ofthe atmosphere only temporarily. In addition, thetiming of the effects is usually different. Many LUCFactivities alter C fluxes to and from the atmosphereseveral decades into the future, whereas fossil fuelemissions avoidance has immediate effects. Non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHGs), which are animportant part of emissions from deforestation inlow-latitude regions, also pose complications forcomparisons between fossil fuel and LUCF, since themechanism generally used to compare these gases(global warming potentials) assumes simultaneousemissions. A common numeraire is needed to expressglobal warming mitigation benefits of different kindsof projects, such as fossil fuel emissions reduction,C sequestration in forest plantations, avoideddeforestation by creating protected areas and throughpolicy changes to slow rates of land-use changes suchas clearing. Megagram (Mg)-year (also known as`ton-year') accounting provides a mechanism forexpressing the benefits of activities such as these ona consistent basis. One can calculate the atmosphericload of each GHG that will be present in each year,expressed as C in the form of CO2 and itsinstantaneous impact equivalent contributed by othergases. The atmospheric load of CO2-equivalent Cpresent over a time horizon is a possible indicator ofthe climatic impact of the emission that placed thisload in the atmosphere. Conversely, this index alsoprovides a measure of the benefit of notproducing the emission. One accounting methodcompares sequestered CO2 in trees with theCO2 that would be in the atmosphere had thesequestration project not been undertaken, whileanother method (used in this paper) compares theatmospheric load of C (or equivalent in non-CO2GHGs) in both project and no-project scenarios.Time preference, expressed by means of a discount rateon C, can be applied to Mg-year equivalencecalculations to allow societal decisions regarding thevalue of time to be integrated into the system forcalculating global warming impacts and benefits. Giving a high value to time, either by raising thediscount rate or by shortening the time horizon,increases the value attributed to temporarysequestration (such as many forest plantationprojects). A high value for time also favorsmitigation measures that have rapid effects (such asslowing deforestation rates) as compared to measuresthat only affect emissions years in the future (suchas creating protected areas in countries with largeareas of remaining forest). Decisions on temporalissues will guide mitigation efforts towards optionsthat may or may not be desirable on the basis ofsocial and environmental effects in spheres other thanglobal warming. How sustainable development criteriaare incorporated into the approval and creditingsystems for activities under the Kyoto Protocol willdetermine the overall environmental and social impactsof pending decisions on temporal issues.