ecostory 52/2006
Carbon Sinks
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Forests, soils, oceans and the atmosphere all store carbon, which moves among those different carbon pools over time; these four different carbon stores form the active carbon pool. If one of these pools absorbs more carbon than it gives off, it is called a 'sink' in the climate jargon, while a source emits more than it absorbs. Destroying forests - turning them from a sink into a source - will shift the balance within the active carbon pool towards higher concentrations in the atmosphere and lower levels of carbon stored in the world's forests, but it will not increase the overall amount of carbon that interacts with the atmosphere.

Another important carbon store are the world's fossil fuel deposits. But this particular carbon store, buried deep inside the earth, is naturally separated from the carbon cycling in the atmosphere, unless humans decide to release it into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil or natural gas. Any releases from this pool of carbon will increase the amount of carbon available to the active carbon pool. This is the crucial difference overlooked by those who advocate carbon sink credits to halt climate change.

The argument to use carbon sink credits to halt climate change is thus based on the faulty assumption that 'carbon is carbon', an assumption that ignores the different interactions of the carbon with the atmosphere, depending on where the carbon is stored.

In addition to this basic fallacy, there are further flaws of the concept once we look more closely at the Kyoto Protocol itself. These include the carbon accounting framework of the Kyoto Protocol and environmental and social shortcomings.

The following reports also provide additional information about the problems associated with carbon sinks accounting:

The role of land carbon sinks in mitigating global climate change.
The Royal Society. Policy Document 10/01.

Full Carbon Account for Russia
IIASA Interim Report IR-00-02.

Taking Credit.

Sinks in the Kyoto Protocol: A dirty deal for forests, forest peoples and the climate

The Carbon Shop: Planting new problems

We don't believe that carbon trading will help the environment in any way. In fact we argue that the Kyoto Protocol itself it a waste of time and effort, which should be spent on direct measures to reduce our impact on the environment, that is reducing the scale and the speed of our economic activities as well as relocalising economic structures. Compare Useless Kyoto.
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