The permanence debate

Margaret Skutsch, Ben H.J. de Jong

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    E. Kintisch (“Deforestation moves to the fore in Copenhagen,” News of the Week, 11 December 2009, p. 1465) identifies a number of issues hindering an agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). However, he does not mention permanence, which has dogged the REDD discussions for some time (1). Many negotiators fear that reductions in loss of forest carbon stocks may be credited and rewarded now, but that the forest may later disappear (whether cut or affected by die-off due to climate changes). They contrast this scenario with that of fossil fuels, for which they argue that savings are permanent.

    This argument is flawed. There is a finite quantity of fossil fuel underground. Clean technology slows the rate at which it is extracted and burned, but eventually it will all be converted to CO2. REDD will slow the rate at which carbon is emitted from forests in an analogous way. The conceptual muddle about permanence occurs when people confuse “stocks” with the “rate of change of stocks.” Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are, like fossil fuel reductions, calculated on the basis of lowered annual losses compared to business as usual, not on the basis of stock remaining.

    There is only one difference between stocks of fossil carbon and stocks of living carbon, in terms of permanence. Carbon lost due to deforestation or forest degradation in one place can be replaced by reforestation or enhancing carbon stocks in degraded forests elsewhere, whereas fossil fuels cannot be replaced at all.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1079-1079
    Number of pages1
    JournalScience
    Volume327
    Issue number5969
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

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