Poland's Big CO2 Climate Move May be Totally Meaningless

The big move Poland made in the climate talks and that it is pushing in further policy discussions may well be meaningless. The option of using re-forestation as a carbon sink to reduce or offset CO2 emissions was one of the big plays by the Polish Government. "carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon that it releases..."  [sinkwatch.com].

The Kyoto agreement allowed forests to be considered carbon sinks and encouraged the planting of new forests as a means of CO2 control. There was some of abuse of this mechanism as with other Kyoto projects, but it is a recognized means of CO2 reduction. Allowing the same means to be used under the European Union Emissions Trading Directive (the main instrument for EU climate policy) was a bit controversial. But Poland and others got this option recognized.

The difficulty - as always - is in the details. One 1000 MW coal-fired plant requires over 100,000 hectares of forest to offset its emissions. The standard applied for a carbon sink to be considered as a CO2 reduction mechanism is that it would not otherwise exist, i.e. new forests should be planted.  So the issue is what would be the net costs of planting enough forests to provide a significant offset for an economy heavily relying on coal-fired energy?

One study by Swedish researchers looked at the issue across all members of the EU. Because Poland has a relatively low level of control of emissions, its incremental control of emissions control (while high) is less than many other countries where stack emissions are more regulated and restricted. The authors concluded that the use of carbon sinks in Poland was actually more expensive than abatement of fossil fuel emissions: "Without carbon sink option, this country makes larger gains from offering permits at the market due to its relatively low abatement cost for reducing fossil fuels." Environmental Economics, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2014 27 Ing-Marie Gren (Sweden), Katarina Elofsson (Sweden) Economic effects of carbon sink management for the EU climate policy.  There may be other studies that contradict this one, but they are not easy to find if they exist. I looked.

Consequently, it appears that Poland will be in for a major effort to reduce CO2 emissions. Fortunately, this overlaps with the need to finally start enforcing EU air pollution regulations (the pending case in the European Court against Poland just filed). It also dovetails with the need to provide larger levels of renewable energy to meet 2020 and 2030 EU targets. Combined with even a modest and discounted estimate of future increases in carbon allowance fees, the pressures are now getting enormous for change in the Polish energy sector. It seems a bit of wishful thinking to suyppose that planting a much of new trees with reduce the problem.


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