Wetenschap - 14 juni 2001

Importing wood means an increase in CO2 emissions

Importing wood means an increase in CO2 emissions

Countries that have agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions under the Kyoto protocol should use a proper accounting method for carbon in wood products, according to Dr Gert-Jan Nabuurs of Alterra and Richard Sikkema of FORM Ecology Consultants. This has big implications for the trade of products made of wood.

In Kyoto, environment ministers agreed to cut emissions by six percent, but it will be hard to say whether this target has been achieved if not all sinks and sources of carbon dioxide are accounted for, says Nabuurs. He believes that countries should add the amount of carbon dioxide they import from other countries in the form of imported wood products to their national carbon balance. Wood contains carbon because trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The carbon dioxide slowly returns to the atmosphere as wood products decay.

Recalculations

If the Netherlands were to account for carbon in wood products it would mean that the carbon balance of the forestry and agricultural sector would no longer be a sink but would be a source of carbon, says Nabuurs. As this country is a big importer of wood it would mean an increase of eight percent in carbon dioxide emissions. In Sweden, a country with a large amount of forest and high wood product exports, the recalculated carbon balance would go in its favour by up to 34 percent. In other countries however, like Gabon, there would hardly be any difference in the carbon balance because the emissions from deforestation are much larger, says Nabuurs.

Stock change method

Nabuurs and Sikkema recently presented a method of accounting for carbon in wood products to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The 'stock change method' combines precise accounting and simplicity. "This method should encourage the use of wood in long-lasting products," says Nabuurs. When wood products are recycled instead of being destroyed, less carbon dioxide emissions are accounted for. This is because carbon remains in containment for a longer time.

By the end of this year, a special IPCC commission will propose an accounting method. It is hard to say however if and when it will be applied. Before countries agree on these kind of matters, years may pass. Nabuurs: "Sometimes it's just like a big circus."

Hugo Bouter

Rainforest in Chili: while forests remain important storage facilities for carbon dioxide, researchers at Alterra argue that the amount of carbon released from wood products as they are broken down must also be included in accounting methods used to monitor the Kyoto protocol.

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