in Brazil

“Forests in exhaustion”: a guide

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Forests in exhaustion: a guide

The first thing that you need to know about “forests in exhaustion” is that they are not forests. According to the Clean Development Mechanism, the photograph on the left is a forest. All of it.

The eucalyptus monoculture plantation in the background is a “forest” because it is bigger than 500 square metres and more than 10 per cent of it is covered with trees taller than two metres, thus meeting CDM’s definition of a “forest”. But the muddy wasteland in the foreground? Well, in UN-speak, that’s a “forest in exhaustion”. While it’s clearly not a forest, it certainly looks exhausted. Bloody knackered, more like.

At its 50th meeting, held last month in Bangkok, the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board made a recommendation on “forests in exhaustion”. A decision will be made on whether or not to include “forests in exhaustion” in the CDM at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen, which starts next week.

Here’s how FERN reported the recommendation, under the headline, “CDM to open doors to large scale plantations”:

A change in a rule under the 2002 Marrakesh Accord – the ‘rulebook’ of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – that has so far kept the majority of large scale tree plantations from applying for CDM registration looks set to be changed. The amendment adopted at the CDM Executive Board’s 50th meeting from 13-16 October 2009 allows for projects on land that were forested [sic] on or after 1 January 1990 (the previous cut-off date), as long as they can demonstrate that “in absence of the project activity, will be converted to non-forested land through final harvesting.”

FERN notes that the proposal could and should be rejected in Copenhagen.

José Domingos Miguez, the ex-chairperson of the CDM Executive Board has played a key role in promoting “forests in exhaustion”. As part of the Brazilian delegation to Poznań he managed to get a mandate from COP-14 for the CDM’s Executive Board to look into “forests in exhaustion”. The CDM hired a group of experts to look into “forests in exhaustion” and the CDM’s Afforestation and Reforestation Working Group developed the recommendation that the Executive Board adopted at its last meeting. Guess who is the chair of the Afforestation and Reforestation Working Group? Step forward José Domingos Miguez. At Miguez’s invitation, the Working Group will hold one of its meetings in Brazil next year.

Earlier this year, REDD-Monitor asked Thelma Krug, one of Brazil’s climate negotiators, some questions about “forests in exhaustion”:

REDD-Monitor: Please explain exactly what is meant by “forests in exhaustion”, and why Brazil is introducing this topic into the climate negotiations.

Thelma Krug: Let me clarify the issue of forests in exhaustion which was introduced in the negotiations in Poznań, for clarification by the Executive Board of the CDM on possible requirements for inclusion in the CDM. Forests in exhaustion, in the Brazilian situation, refers to forest plantations that have exhausted, i.e., have completed their third rotation cycle, after which all the biomass (including stumps and roots) are removed, to give rise or not to new plantations. In Brazil, biomass from forest plantations are used for charcoal production, to replace coal or non-renewable charcoal. In the past, the government provided financial incentives for the establishment of these plantations, but these have been discontinued. Hence, some of the forest plantations in exhaustion may not be replaced by other.

In case CDM could be applied to forest plantations in these circumstances, this could alleviate pressure on other land (areas that were not forest plantations in December 1989), which could be explored for other use (crops or cattle ranching).

I hope this brings some clarification to the issue. Although the same issue happens in several other parts of the world (in particular developing countries, many of which in Africa), reference to forests in exhaustion is not widely used.

REDD-Monitor: Since the UN does not differentiate between forests and plantations, wouldn’t this “forests in exhaustion” proposal create an incentive to clearcut native forests in the hope of gaining CDM funding for establishing plantations in the future?

Thelma Krug: My understanding is exactly opposite, the reason being that if there is a demand for charcoal (renewable or not renewable) and plantations are discontinued due to lack of incentives (including the price of mineral coal), then there will be pressure on native forests, as presently occurs in Minas Gerais state and even some parts of Amazonia, in the case of Brazil.

I agree with you that each case may be particular, and the rules would have to be made very strict so as to avoid perversive incentives, in some cases. However, I believe that in the demonstration of additionality, this would somehow be addressed.

The idea of “forests (sic) in exhaustion”, then, is to replace the Brazilian government’s plantations subsidy with a subsidy financed through the CDM. This opens up an enormous opportunity for the plantations industry. The industry will no longer have to argue that is creating “sustainable biomass” (and therefore avoiding burning coal or charcoal) in order to qualify for CDM credits. It can now simply argue that without the CDM subsidy it would be too expensive to plant new trees.

In an interview in October 2009, the President of the Brazilian Association of Pulp and Paper (BRACELPA), Elizabeth de Carvalhaes, said, “I believe that no-one will plant an additional hectare of forest [sic] only to sell carbon credits,” but added that she is convinced that the millions of dollars that this can generate for the companies could make the difference between building or not building a new pulp mill. Of course a new pulp mill will require new plantations to provide the raw material.

The CDM’s most recent proposed subsidy to the plantations and pulp industry is further proof (as if more proof were needed) that the UN urgently needs to revisit its definition of forests to exclude industrial tree plantations.


Here is the recommendation as adopted by the CDM Executive Board’s 50th meeting in Bangkok, October 2009:

Annex 24
Recommendation on the implications of the possible inclusion of reforestation of lands with forests in exhaustion as afforestation and reforestation clean development mechanism project activities, taking into account technical, methodological and legal issues

1. The CDM Executive Board following the request contained in paragraph 42 of the decision 2/CMP.4 “Further guidance relating to the clean development mechanism” assessed the implications of the possible inclusion of reforestation of lands with forests in exhaustion as afforestation and reforestation clean development mechanism project activities, taking into account technical, methodological and legal issues.

2. The Board agreed that “Forest in exhaustion” is area of land containing forest – established through planting, seeding and/or the human-induced promotion of natural seed sources – on 31 December 1989 and/or at the starting date of the project activity. If the land at the starting date of the project activity is forest then, in absence of the project activity, it will be converted to non-forested land through final harvesting within [5] years of starting date of the project activity. If the land at the starting date of the project activity is non-forested land then, in absence of the project activity, it is expected to remain as non-forested land.

3. The Board further agreed that the legal implication of the above definition is revision of annex to Decision 16/CMP.1 Land use, land-use change and forestry section D, Article 12, in order to introduce the draft new paragraph 13 (bis) as follows: For the first commitment period, reforestation activities will be limited to reforestation occurring on those lands that did not contain forest or contained forest in exhaustion on 31 December 1989.

4. The Board noted that if the above mentioned revision is applied then reforestation of lands with forests in exhaustion follows all requirements contained in the Decision 5/CMP.1 “Modalities and procedures for afforestation and reforestation project activities under the clean development mechanism in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol”.

^^ back to text ^^

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  1. In my opion as a forest engineer from Brazil, I can say that plantations with final harvesting at the age of 5 years is hardly ever seen here, hence, the definiton adopted is not apropiated for the definition of “forests in exhaustion”.

  2. @Thales West – Thanks for this. I wondered about the five years cut off as well. The number is in square brackets, meaning that it hasn’t been agreed, possibly for the reason you explain.