The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Five     Number One                           Late Winter 2001

Climate Change and Forest Restoration Campaign

Maine Forests and Carbon Sequestration

Are Boreal Forests Becoming a Carbon Source?

Canadians Ponder Cost of Rush for Dirty Oil

A Fourteen Year Old's Opinion on Global Warming

Why I Became a Vegetarian

Paper or Plastic? Neither!

Living With Solar, a Maine Primer

Global Warming and Maine's Forests

Links to global warming news

 The Kyoto Climate Change Treaty and

the Future of our Forests

by John Demos

Until recently Global Warming or Climate Change has been hotly debated by scientists and politicians, and has been viewed as a problem quite removed from the average citizen. Although some scientists still question the causes of climate change, few doubt the evidence that the planet has warmed about a degree in the past century. Further evidence of the scale of the problem came in a report last week from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report based on the input of 516 climate experts predicted a possible rise of up to 5.8 degrees in the next century, far worse than previous projections.

Such announcements, coupled with the recent abundance of "storms of the century", evidence of impacts on flora (like the die-off of our maple trees) and the introduction of exotic diseases to our neck of the woods, have brought the problem home to roost on the SUV in the driveway.

Automobile exhaust is one of the most important sources of greenhouse gases. Photo by Paul Donahue.

Maine and New Hampshire have joined a growing list of state governments beginning to develop climate change plans. Even the newly-elected President of the United States; long-term global warming doubter, opponent of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, and proponent of increased oil exploration; has begun to show grudging acknowledgment that something is awry.

In November of last year an international climate summit on implementing the Kyoto Treaty was held at The Hague, in The Netherlands. Although the representatives from around the world were in agreement that climate change is a genuine threat, there was disagreement on how to go about reducing the impact of the gasses that are thought responsible. The disagreements were so pronounced that the summit adjourned without acceptance of the final Treaty details. The change of our Administration from climate change believers to the Bush doubters now raises the real possibility that the Kyoto Treaty could be delayed for years while the planet continues to heat up.

One of the most contentious issues at The Hague dealt with management of the planet's forests and a proposal to reward forest harvesting practices with "carbon credits". These credits would be based on a particular forest's ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide. These credits could be sold by landowners to polluting industries that wanted to avoid the cost of cleaning up their emissions. This is similar to the controversial pollution credit scheme presently being employed by US industries.

The United States, with pressure from the forest products industry and other timber producing countries, attempted to include "business-as-usual" forest practices, like clearcutting, plantation creation and the planting of genetically engineered, fast-growing trees as practices deserving of crediting. In an effort to find new sources of revenue for an economically strapped industry, timber interests have been using the proven fact that young trees absorb CO2 at a faster rate than a mature stand. By cutting forests at a rapid rate, they argue, locking the captured gas in building materials, and replanting young trees, we can accelerate the absorption of CO2. Although theory sounds good it is not backed up by science.

According to studies up to 75% of a forest's trapped CO2 is released to the atmosphere during harvesting and processing of the wood. This gas is never fully recovered, even by the plantations that industry wants to use to replace our wild forests. The conclusions of a study out of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany last September are, that the protection of existing ancient and mature forests is the best way to fight climate change. Since the beginning of industrialization, the loss of forests is believed to account for between a third and a half of all carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Realizing that forest "carbon credits" were certain to be part of a final Kyoto Treaty, American Lands Alliance and other groups asked the Administration to allow only the crediting of forest practices that result in real forest protection or restoration. Because the United States refused to modify its position significantly the deal failed when European governments refused to sign on. Further attempts to reach an agreement fell apart in the closing days of the Clinton Administration. The onus for a final Kyoto Treaty deal now falls to George Bush Jr. as talks resume this year.

A Kyoto Treaty that rewards sound forestry could not only help reduce the threat of climate change but could bring a large sums of money into the Northeast to help save our forests, protect habitat for endangered species and preserve our traditional way of life. Make your opinion known to the President and your representatives in Congress.

FEN board member John Demos is Northeast Representative of American Lands Alliance. For more information got to:

Also see article in this issue by Donella Meadows titled No Point in Waiting Around for Leadership

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