Sinks in the Kyoto Protocol: A Dirty Deal for Forests, Forest Peoples and the Climate

3 July 2001

Sinks in the Kyoto Protocol: A Dirty Deal for Forests, Forest Peoples and the Climate

For over 150 years, industrial societies have been releasing carbon from underground coal and oil reserves, adding about 175 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Another six billion tonnes are being added each year, resulting in a 31% increase of CO2 in the atmosphere since 1750.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as a consequence of worldwide concern over climate change. In 1997, it was amended by an additional legally binding commitment, the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in industrialised countries but includes few details on how to achieve them. For some, the reduction targets governments agreed upon do not go far enough to stave off the dangers of global warming.

One of the most controversial issues emerging in these negotiations is the question of whether and to what extent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions can be substituted by planting trees. The current intergovernmental debate on climate change reduces forests to ‘carbon sinks’ instead of addressing the vital links between forests and climate change.

This briefing highlights and investigates some of the most commonly used arguments in the ‘carbon sinks’ debate. It also aims to demonstrate that ‘carbon sink credits’ won’t work – not for forests, not for forest peoples and not for the atmosphere – as long as the international community does not address the social and environmental issues associated with Kyoto lands, particularly large-scale tree plantations.

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