By Brendan Mackey, William Moomaw, David Lindenmayer and Heather Keith
Abstract: Meeting the Paris Agreement global warming target requires deep and rapid cuts in CO2 emissions as well as removals from the atmosphere into land sinks, especially forests. While international climate policy in the land sector does now recognize forest protection as a mitigation strategy, it is not receiving sufficient attention in developed countries even though they experience emissions from deforestation as well as from logging of managed forests. Current national greenhouse gas inventories obscure the mitigation potential of forest protection through net carbon accounting between the fossil fuel and the land sectors as well as within the different categories of the land. This prevents decision-makers in national governments, the private sector and civil society having access to all the science-based evidence needed to evaluate the merits of all mitigation strategies. The consequences of net carbon accounting for global policy were investigated by examining annual inventory reports of four high forest cover developed countries (Australia, Canada, USA, and Russia). Net accounting between sectors makes a major contribution to meeting nationally determined contributions with removals in Forest Land offsetting between 14% and 38% of the fossil fuel emissions for these countries. Analysis of reports for Australia at a sub-national level revealed that the State of Tasmania delivered negative emissions due to a change in forest management—a large and rapid drop in native forest logging—resulting in a mitigation benefit of ∼22 Mt CO2-e yr–1 over the reported period 2011/12–2018/19. This is the kind of outcome required globally to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goal. All CO2 emissions from, and atmospheric removals into, forest ecosystem carbon stocks now matter and should be counted and credited to achieve the deep and rapid cuts in emissions needed over the coming decades. Accounting and reporting systems therefore need to show gains and losses of carbon stocks in each reservoir. Changing forest management in naturally regenerating forests to avoid emissions from harvesting and enabling forest regrowth is an effective mitigation strategy that can rapidly reduce anthropogenic emissions from the forest sector and simultaneously increase removals of CO2 from the atmosphere.