Can We Avoid Reducing Emissions?

Should carbon sequestation (using vegetation to absorb carbon) get the same credit as reducing emissions to meet a country’s Kyoto Protocol obligation? The U.S. argues it should; Europe is against it.

The Gallon Letter
published an Internet discussion amoung several scientists on the validity of sequestation. Folke Bohlin, professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Dept. of Forest Management: “Carbon sequestration in biomass (CSB) is a dead issue for three major reasons and many lesser ones.

1) Carbon sequestered in biomass will be let loose eventually. To start building “CO2 bombs” might be considered a desperate measure when all other avenues are closed, not now while we still can do more effective things like getting rid of the carbon altogether.

2) CSB is exceedingly expensive, the opportunity cost of not harvesting at the appropriate time is very costly. Nevertheless one can always find many cases when this opportunity cost is less obvious, e.g., on low producing “waste lands” in the tropics, or, in the forests left uncut in the North. Those waste lands are being used by for grazing or other purposes, and as soon as the timber price goes up those forests will be cut down.”

3) Even with millions and millions of hectares in CSB they don’t get close to halting or changing the direction of carbon. Perhaps a little, temporary, slowing down, that’s all. At least 85% of carbon comes from fossil fuel use, and the only way to change things is to get away from fossil fuels.”

Robert Macgregor from Canada responded: “Forests reach equilibrium in carbon flow a lot quicker than the turnover time in the atmosphere. CO2 from fossil fuel emissions will be around long after net sequestration in forests has stopped. Therefore, sequestration in standing biomass is of minute impact and then only if total forest area is increased dramatically. To have any real effect, carbon must be taken out of circulation for much longer periods of time. Increasing soil carbon does this to some degree, but comes nowhere near matching the sequestration process that created fossil fuels in the first place.

We’d do better by putting more resources into (1) finding ways to reduce the rate at
which fossil fuel carbon gets into the atmosphere, by, eg., increasing fuel efficiencies and finding non-fossil energy sources, and (2) preparing for inevitable impacts of climate change. A lot of what is going on now seems to be closing the barn door after the horse has already fled.”

Meanwhile, a recent World Wildlife Fund poll shows that 73 percent of respondents view global warming is a serious threat and may well be responsible for extreme weather patterns. The majority of people (Republicans, 69%; Independents (74%, and Democrats, 85%) favor signing the Kyoto Protocol and believe that taking action to reduce global warming will help, not hurt, the economy.

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