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Unintended Consequences

June 19, 2017

By Paul Homewood


Two news reports from the BBC in the last few days, which rather complement each other:


Leading researchers have condemned attempts to change the way carbon from trees will be counted in Europe.

The scientists fear that millions of tonnes of CO2 from forests will disappear from the books if the changes go ahead.

Trees are important carbon sinks as they soak up about 10% of Europe’s emissions every year.

But some countries want to cut more trees down in future without counting the resulting loss of carbon.

Europe’s forests have been increasing for the last century, and over the last 10 years the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches of trees have been added every day.

However accounting for carbon contained in trees is a fiendishly difficult task. Forests can both soak up and emit carbon depending on how old they are, and how they are managed and harvested.

As the European Union tries to put in place wide-ranging plans to restrict future carbon emissions, officials want to ensure that accounting for the impact of forests on the atmosphere should be based on sound science.

To this end they want to cap the use of forestry at the levels seen between 1990 and 2009. If countries want to harvest more trees in future than they did during this period, the loss of carbon would count towards the country’s overall emissions.

However several countries including Austria, Finland, Poland and Sweden want a change in these rules so that increased harvesting in the future should not be penalised.

The Finnish government says that it plans to increase tree harvesting by almost a quarter before 2030. The Finns argue that they should not have to account for these extra emissions, since the country’s forests will still absorb more carbon dioxide than they release.

Industry supporters argue in favour of a more "flexible" approach. They say that Europe’s forests have increased because of investment from businesses that want to be able to exploit the resource. Putting in place rules that leave trees standing forever won’t benefit anyone, they say.

But researchers in the field are very anxious about the proposed changes. Around 40 forestry experts from across the world have signed a letter arguing that if the rules are amended, it would "hide" roughly 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year – equivalent to two-thirds of France’s annual emissions.

"What the countries are arguing is that they should be able to use the forests in what they call a sustainable way," said Prof Joanna House from the University of Bristol, UK, and a former lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"But it doesn’t account for what’s happening right now. If you are increasing the harvest rate, you will have less of a stock of carbon in the trees and soils."

The whole system of accounting for carbon dioxide emissions from land use changes and forestation is a notoriously complex one, which is open to abuse.

While the UK will doubtlessly measure religiously every molecule of CO2 emitted, other countries will look after their own interests.

Ironically, of course, much of the forests due to be chopped down will end up being burnt in power stations.

Meanwhile, the BBC also report on how the Amazon Basin could be permanently damaged by the construction of hydro electric dams:


The Amazon basin could suffer significant and irreversible damage if an extensive dam building programme goes ahead, scientists say.

Currently, 428 hydroelectric dams are planned, with 140 already built or under construction.

Researchers warn that this could affect the dynamics of the complex river system and put thousands of unique species at risk.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

"The world is going to lose the most diverse wetland on the planet," said lead author Prof Edgargo Latrubesse, from the University of Texas at Austin, US.

What these two stories have in common is how the obsession with climate change is creating perverse consequences for the environment.

  1. stephen m lord permalink
    June 19, 2017 8:07 pm

    It all goes back t o the oft ignored fact that central planning can never work. Does not matter if you are centrally planning CO2 levels or the making of shoes. Free people freely making choices will always be better no matter what.

    • June 21, 2017 10:45 am

      I always remember the Russian apartments in the USSR days being built with balconies, but no doors or windows into them. Central planning designs showed no doors or windows, no one dared question the government, so none were built.

  2. Morley Sutter permalink
    June 19, 2017 8:40 pm

    What hubris (otherwise known as arrogance)! To think that Earth’s CO2 budget can be managed as an accountant might attempt to manage a household budget.

  3. HotScot permalink
    June 19, 2017 9:30 pm

    The end of the green blob obsession is nigh.

    They can’t make up their minds, they tie themselves in media knots, and their science is political propaganda.

    I suspect we have about 4 or 5 years left of this utter nonsense before Trumps Paris decision is demonstrably proven sound.

    When ambitious politicians with a name to make for themselves see no meaningful climate change, despite Trumps position, there will be a political mass rush for the climate door.

    And guess what, the media will follow en mass.

    Sorry folks, I do bang on about it, but most of the world is fed up with the same old tune, played by the same old ‘fiddle’.

    Europe has been called out by the UK and the US, for different, but converging reasons. Individual UK Brexit voters, voted against a corrupt, bureaucratic, federation with designs on raising an Army with US assistance to politically, socially, and militarily overwhelm Russia, to create a global superstate based on socialism. Something Germany has lusted after for many years. Frau Merkle’s historical political influences have, I believe, been largely participants in Hitler’s quest to conquer Europe and Russia.

    The EU is the political and financial manifestation of that militaristic desire.

    The US, and President Trump, to their considerable benefit, have sent a warning shot across the bows of Frau Merkle by withdrawing from the Paris Accord. No more sponging for political and financial profit based on a scientific prediction of future dystopia. Deal with the present, our forebears did and the human race profited immensely from it.

    Sure, our parents made mistakes, who doesn’t? But society has dealt with ‘mistakes’ from the past and moved on, through the ages.

    Learn from our past? Are we kidding ourselves? Did we learn from our past with Korea?
    Vietnam? The Falklands? Afghanistan? Iraq? Syria?

    Seriously, who the fuck are we kidding?

    So how can we possibly ‘learn’ form the past in the climate debate? We don’t even have any recent meaningful, historical references to learn from.

    And whilst I’m preaching to the converted, my rant get it off my chest.

    Sorry folks. A bad day in 30 degree London heat when my motorcycle broke down and I had to wait 4 hours for a recovery man. Like London heat is any different from any other heat 🙂

    My consolation is, an absolute gentleman, unprompted, gave me 50p (50 pence, or half a UK Pound) to use a public toilet when I was bursting and had no cash.

    Humanity prevails.

    And it had just dawned on me that I dismissed a tramp (stinking of alcohol) who was asking for cash.

    I do, however, now feel a bit better because as he shambled off, he dipped into his pocket and puled out a billroll of notes, to count his days takings, before begging for more from a throng of generous passing tourists.

    Moral to the story? Dunno.

  4. June 20, 2017 5:50 am

    The biggest danger to the planet is the response to “the climate change scam”. We see examples of it time after time after time.

  5. Pat permalink
    June 20, 2017 7:43 am

    So let the Brazilians burn European wood in their power stations?!

  6. Tim Hammond permalink
    June 20, 2017 7:49 am

    This misses the point – the actions of the virtuous are not meant to actually make a difference, but to show the virtue of the actors.

    • June 20, 2017 4:54 pm

      I shall make a note of that aphorism, Tim! It is the perfect put-down!

    • June 21, 2017 10:48 am

      As to the left (the aging high school clique), I have said to them for decades: “Intentions count for nothing; results count for everything.”

  7. June 20, 2017 9:43 am

    There is a world of difference between cutting down old growth forest and plantations. From an ecological perspective, the plantations are generally of negligible interest; the old-growth forests are “biodiversity hotspots”. I should know because we have about 3 ha of ancient woodland left in Britain. Anyway, the point is that the old growth stuff almost certainly fixes a lot less carbon than the vigorously-growing plantation. My prescription would say: plantations you can cut down as much as you like; ancient woodland, not one square metre.

  8. Bloke down the pub permalink
    June 20, 2017 10:38 am

    “But it doesn’t account for what’s happening right now. If you are increasing the harvest rate, you will have less of a stock of carbon in the trees and soils.”

    The stock of carbon will be exactly the same as long as the wood is used for construction and not burnt in a power station. It’s only the rate of absorption that will be reduced until such time as the replacement trees grow to a commensurate size, and even that is reduced if you plant two trees for every one that you cut down.

  9. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    June 20, 2017 11:20 am

    Your comment hinges on the amount of survival of wood from slow destruction as opposed to rapid.
    A tree turned into furniture or a house will eventually decay, giving off its delayed complement of CO2. Whether the delay is a benefit depends in part on whether a significant portion of trees are sent on the slow decay path. I have yet to see a calculation showing what % of harvest goes to furniture, houses etc, but from personal observation I would put it below 0.01%. That is, trivial.

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      June 22, 2017 10:35 am

      So you’re saying that 99.99% of timber is harvested for biomass or ephemeral products such as news print? Seems high to me, but even a portion of that will end up in land-fill which would be the slow decay path.

  10. Jack Broughton permalink
    June 22, 2017 3:25 pm

    If people were serious about carbon reduction:
    1. They would not burn wood.
    2. They would put the excess / dead wood into holes in the ground where later generations could mine it as coal.
    3. They would be locked away where they can do no harm to others.

    Drax is likely to be converted to burn gas next and install open-cycle gas turbines: follow the money trail!

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