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May 25, 2017, 08:41 AM

Transparency aids the fight against climate change

By Michael Morel

Lumber©CC0 Public Domain

Brabant Brussels, Belgium - In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up, they have a daily "Spare the Air" notification system that tells everyone whether or not they can burn wood in their fireplace. In the UK there are designated "smoke control areas" where emitting smoke from a chimney is illegal unless it comes from an authorized fuel. Wood is not one of them.

These rules make sense. If everyone in London or the similarly sized SF Bay Area burned wood when it was cold, today's considerable pollution would look like heaven.

You would think burning wood on a larger, countrywide scale would be similarly prohibited. But under major international climate treaty standards, burning "biomass" for fuel is counted as a carbon neutral activity even though it emits as much carbon as fuels like coal. This is because trees are a renewable resource, and this makes sense as long as new trees are planted accordingly.

A recent New Scientist article says this method of carbon emission measurement is flawed and is abused to "greenwash" statistics. The piece says countries may be intentionally lobbying for weaker rules to further obfuscate the measurement of trees cover in order to reduce their carbon footprint on paper.

It is a bit like recording a tight personal budget while secretly splurging on the credit card. It might not hurt for a while but reality will eventually come knocking. So will the atmosphere.

The impulse to cut corners is a natural human impulse that grips the best of us, and its seriousness can vary from a white lie to a national scandal. Does this case qualify as a nefarious conspiracy? I am skeptical.

What matters more than accounting tricks is the overarching framework countries are operating under. The countries that signed up to the Paris climate deal were signaling a genuine intention to cut emissions. It would be a surprise if countries like France, Austria and Finland would completely undermine the process by gradually and deceitfully introducing mass deforestation. You may cheat on your diet with late night ice cream, but it does not mean your intentions are bad. For the other 23 hours that day you were truly focused on self improvement.

Let us give these offenders the benefit of the doubt, though we should be mindful of our tendency to cook the books, be in on a national scale or a personal one. Like a diet, it helps to reduce opportunities to cheat. If the mechanisms for measuring forest cover are inadequate, then should be improved, not weakened.

Focusing on other ways to preserve greenery is part of the solution as well. Advances in solar and wind technology are increasingly playing their part. The use of reclaimed wood in furniture and new construction can also alleviate pressure on forests. But transparency and accountability in the trade of reclaimed lumber is as important as it is for burning bio mass. Without rigorous verification, the environmental benefits will burn up.

New Scientist - EU nations set to wipe our forests and not account emissions

Story Type:  News

ID: 100396

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