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Abstract

Current climate mitigation policies have not fully resolved contentious issues regarding the inclusion of carbon sequestration through changes in forestry and agricultural management practices. Terrestrial carbon sinks could be a low-cost mitigation option that fosters conservation and development, yet issues related to accurately documenting the amount of carbon sequestered undermine confidence that emission offsets through sequestration are equivalent to emission reductions. From an atmospheric perspective, net of CO2 removals through sequestration are equivalent to emission reductions over a given period of time. But carbon will not remain sequestered in biomass or soils indefinitely and investments in sequestration could stifle investments in reducing emissions from other sources. Many international climate agreements cap emissions from some countries or sectors but enable participation of uncapped countries or sectors for forestry and agricultural sequestration. This structure can prompt emission increases in parts of the uncapped entities that weaken the value of emission reductions earned through sequestration. This has been a minor issue under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Reduced emissions through deforestation and degradation is susceptible to the same problems. The purpose of this article is to review the science, politics, and policy that form the basis of arguments for and against the inclusion forestry and agricultural sequestration as a component of current and future international climate mitigation policies. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 238–254 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.101

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