Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry

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5.3.4. Project Duration How Long Do Projects Have To Be Run?

The Kyoto Protocol requires that LULUCF projects result in long-term changes in terrestrial carbon storage and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The definition of "long-term" varies substantially, however, and there is no consensus regarding a minimum time frame for project duration.

During the AIJ Pilot Phase, projects have been conducted for a variety of time frames: from 20 years [e.g., the PAP in Costa Rica (Trines, 1998a)] to 99 years [e.g., the FACE Foundation projects (Verweij and Emmer, 1998)]. Most projects state that their GHG benefits are expected to be maintained beyond the project time frame [see the list of AIJ projects on the UNFCCC Web site (UNFCCC, 1999b)], although their contractual arrangements are finite. This lack of definition has caused uncertainty to all parties involved-from regulatory bodies to project developers and investors.

There is a need, therefore, to agree on what time frame should be used as the basis for quantification of GHG benefits of a project. Different time frames or approaches have been proposed to define the duration of projects:

  • Perpetuity; Under this approach the environmental benefits of projects must be maintained forever. This argument is based on the assumption that the reversal of GHG benefits from a project at any point in time would totally invalidate the project (Carbon Storage Trust, 1998; Maclaren, 1999) and that only maintenance of carbon stocks in perpetuity could counter the environmental effects of GHG emissions from fossil fuel sources. It is also argued that this approach is the only one that is compatible with the stock change method currently used by the IPCC for national GHG inventories (Houghton et al., 1997). Criticisms of this approach argue that it is impossible to guarantee that a project will be run in perpetuity; that maintenance of projects in perpetuity may create conflicts with other land uses in the long term; and that because of the decay pattern of GHGs in the atmosphere, there is no need for mitigation effects to be perpetual
  • 100 years: Under this approach, the GHG benefits of a project must be maintained for a period of 100 years to be consistent with the Kyoto Protocol's adoption of the IPCC's GWPs (Article 5.3) and the Protocol's 100-year reference time frame (Addendum to the Protocol, Decision 2/CP.3, para. 3) for calculation of the AGWP for CO2. Although this concept has limitations (IPCC, 1996), it has been adopted for use in the Kyoto Protocol to account for total emissions of GHGs on a CO2-equivalent basis.
  • Equivalence based: Under this approach, the GHG benefits of LULUCF mitigation projects must be maintained until they counteract the effect of an equivalent amount of GHGs emitted to the atmosphere, estimated on the basis of the cumulative radiative forcing effect of a pulse emission of CO2 during its residence in the atmosphere (i.e., its AGWP) (IPCC, 1992). Variations of this concept have been developed that proposed minimum time frames of 55 years (Moura-Costa and Wilson, 2000) or 100 years (Fearnside et al., 2000) (see Chapter 2).
  • Variable: This approach acknowledges that different projects may have different operational time frames. Given the wide range of time frames of projects carried out to date, it can be inferred that this approach has been adopted during the AIJ Pilot Phase.

Adoption of a standard definition of the minimum required time frame for project duration would greatly facilitate consistency in accounting for the GHG benefits of different projects. It would also reduce the uncertainty of all parties involved in project development (project developers, investors, certifiers, regulatory bodies, and the general public).

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