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Logging loophole gets spotlight at Bonn climate talks

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With media rightly focused on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster it's understandable that the climate talks under way in Bonn, Germany this week are not getting much of a spotlight.

That being said, there are a lot of very important decisions being made in Bonn that will ultimately lead to a clean energy economy - one that avoids oil spills by not drilling for oil in the first place.

On the second day of the climate negotiations environmental groups were raising big concerns about a so-called "logging loophole" that would allow for a whopping 400 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions to go unaccounted for - this is roughly equivalent to the total annual emissions for Spain.

And here you thought climate treaty negotiations were about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The negotiations around forestry practices and land use are important for an effective climate treaty because forests act as large carbon banks that absorb and store heat-trapping gases. If you cut a forest down, the carbon is released and any future ability for that forest to absorb carbon from the atmosphere is lost.

In an ideal world, when a country cuts down a forest this would negatively effect the overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for that the country and when they regrow a forest it would have a positive effect.

That's in an ideal world.

The logging loophole is not a new issue, but it is one of the more complicated parts of the negotiations and for that reason it is one that struggles to get attention.

A handful of developed nations like Japan, Australia and Germany are playing all sorts of games at the negotiating table that would  allow them to chop down large swaths of forest and use them for things like burning the wood to generate electricity, but not have to be penalized when it comes to their stated goals to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

But as the old saying goes: "You can't have your cake and eat it to."

Sean Cadman from the Wilderness Society (Australia) told told a press conference yesterday in Bonn that, developed countries, "are rapidly settling on a solution which will allow them to increase logging, which will increase net emissions without having to account for those emissions... [this would] result in an additional 400 megatons of emissions per year. Same as all of the emissions of Spain."

There is a pack of countries pushing for this logging loophole to stay in the agreement, namely Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Austria and Sweden. You can bet that the negotiators on the ground and their political bosses back in their home countries are going to get an earful if they don't stop playing this sleight of hand.

Here's the Wilderness Society's Sean Cadman explaining the logging loophole in a little more detail:

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