Governing by expertise: the contested politics
of (accounting for) land-based mitigation in a new
Accepted: 5 July 2016 / Published online: 15 July 2016
The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract This article analyzes the contested politics of including (and accounting for)
land-based mitigation in a post-2020 climate agreement. Emissions from land have been
only partially included to date within the United Nations Framework Convention on Cli-
mate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015 and
‘‘applicable to all’’ for the post-2020 period, raises the possibility of unprecedented reli-
ance on land-based mitigation. This has signiﬁcant consequences for furthering both
ambition and equity in global climate mitigation efforts. Yet, what are these consequences,
and how have they manifested themselves in the existing (pre-2020) multilateral climate
regime? What role do accounting rules for land-based mitigation play herein? In
addressing these questions, we identify key dimensions of what we term the ‘‘governance
by expertise’’ approach taken to land-based mitigation to date, which has served to reduce
the environmental integrity of existing (developed country) mitigation efforts. Speciﬁcally,
we analyze land-use accounting rules as a site of politics and highlight the ‘‘technical-
ization of politics’’ underway in this realm, which obscures the political implications of
how land has been included to date. We conclude by considering whether the Paris
Agreement institutionalizes similar dynamics, and the environmental integrity and equity
implications of doing so.
Keywords Accounting Climate governance Equity Land-based mitigation Land-use,
land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) Negative emissions Paris Agreement United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Australian-German Climate & Energy College, and School of Geography, University of
Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
Environmental Policy Group, Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University,
Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands
Int Environ Agreements (2017) 17:483–500
This article analyzes the contested politics of including (and accounting for) land-based
mitigation in a post-2020 climate agreement. Emissions from agriculture and land-use
contribute roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC 2014). Yet,
these have been only partially included to date in the multilateral climate regime, which is
centered around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol. Under the auspices of these agreements, countries have
sought for the last two decades to agree on guiding principles and binding obligations (for
developed countries) to reduce their GHG emissions.
With the newly concluded Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC, adopted in December
2015 and ‘‘applicable to all’’ for the post-2020 era, the partial inclusion to date of the land
sector looks set to change. Key elements of the Paris Agreement raise the possibility of
unprecedented reliance on land-based mitigation. This includes the temperature goal to
stay ‘‘well below’’ a temperature increase of 2 C and to ‘‘pursue efforts’’ to limit tem-
perature increase to 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels (UNFCCC 2015, Article 2.1). Related
to this is the long-term mitigation goal calling for a peaking of greenhouse gas emissions
‘‘as soon as possible’’ to be achieved through a ‘‘balance between anthropogenic emissions
by sources and removals by sinks’’ (UNFCCC 2015, Article 4.1). The reference to ‘‘re-
movals by sinks’’ implicates, inter alia, terrestrial sequestration of carbon emissions, i.e.,
the land sector.
Much is at stake, given that the land sector is crucial to the pursuit of sustainable
development and poverty eradication, and the most vulnerable populations depend upon
land for food, fuel, and livelihoods. Added to this is the technical and political complexity
inherent in monitoring land-based emissions. A key dilemma is thus how to secure land-
based mitigation so as to enhance collective climate action, without undermining food
security or other essential land-uses.
In this paper, we assess how the challenges of relying on land-based mitigation have
been dealt with in existing (pre-2020) climate governance efforts. Our aim in doing so is to
identify the consequences of pursuing similar approaches in the future. In particular, we
focus on the accounting rules for the land sector developed within the UNFCCC’s Kyoto
Protocol, upon which a post-2020 climate regime is likely to build. We choose to focus on
accounting rules because these rules have shaped the nature and scope of reliance on land-
based mitigation in meeting current developed country emission reduction targets under
the Kyoto Protocol. It is thus crucial and timely to understand the nature of these
accounting rules, how they came to be negotiated, and their implications for ambitious and
equitable pathways to future climate mitigation efforts by all.
In our paper, we view land sector accounting rules as a site of political negotiations,
even as they are technically complex, obscure, and often inscrutable to those lacking
requisite expertise. In analyzing the complex interplay between the technical and political
in this realm, we advance the notion of ‘‘governing by expertise’’ in this article, which we
argue has been the dominant approach to including land-based mitigation in the multi-
lateral climate regime to date. Such an approach has entailed a technicalization of what are
highly contested normative and political questions about who should do what, and how
much, in combating climate change, and what role the land sector should play herein.
Land is the only sector where CO
is not only emitted (via forest burning and clearing and land-use change
for agriculture, among other activities), but also sequestered (via photosynthesis).
484 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
One caveat is important to note at the outset: A key conﬂict around land-based miti-
gation in the UNFCCC has centered on the scope and meaning of the term ‘‘land.’’ While
land generally refers to forests, agriculture, and other land-uses, developing countries have
long opposed the inclusion of agriculture within multilateral climate mitigation efforts
under the UNFCCC, given the potential adverse impacts on food security. Our analysis
pertains thus to carbon-related terrestrial emissions, i.e., CO
emissions and removals from
forests, soil carbon, and cropping and grazing activities, in line with current Intergov-
ernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reporting guidelines on so-called LULUCF
(land-use, land-use change and forestry) activities. This excludes consideration of non-CO
agricultural activities (such as livestock management and fertilizer use), which are the
dominant sources of emissions from the agricultural sector.
We proceed as follows: We ﬁrst distill lessons from the manner in which land-use, as
understood above, has been included to date in the existing climate regime. Our discussion
reveals a lack of environmental integrity in the current (accounting) approach to land sector
We then review the architecture of target setting in the Paris Agreement and the
envisaged role (and debates around accounting) for the land sector therein. We conclude
with considering the implications for ambition and equity of extending the current
approach to the land sector within the post-2020 regime.
Our analysis relies upon 21 semi-structured interviews conducted during 2015 (in
person during UNFCCC negotiating sessions, or by Skype and telephone) with 14 land-use
negotiators (seven from developing countries and seven from developed countries), three
representatives of non-governmental organizations, and four academics/experts. Intervie-
wees were selected based on their involvement or familiarity with land-use negotiations
and to reﬂect a range of views. All interviewees were guaranteed anonymity and hence are
only identiﬁed here by broad professional afﬁliation and geographical region. We also
draw upon our own observation of multilateral climate negotiations, from the Lima
meeting in December 2014 to Paris in December 2015, as well as intersessional negoti-
ations, encompassing six sessions. Finally, we rely on an extensive review of primary and
secondary sources, including country submissions to the UNFCCC during 2014-2015
culminating in the Paris Agreement,
grey literature, and existing academic analyses.
2 Governing by expertise: accounting as a site of politics
The politics of expertise, i.e., the ‘‘selective use of expert knowledge by political elites to
gain support for their pre-deﬁned policy agendas’’ (Fisher 1990, 28, paraphrased in Lo
brand 2009, 404–405), has been a long-standing object of critical science studies scrutiny,
including in the climate domain. Lo
¨vbrand (2009) in particular has explored in detail what
she terms the ‘‘links between knowledge-making and decision-making authority’’ in
multilateral climate negotiations on terrestrial sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. Such
interlinkages are now routinely analyzed within the paradigm of ‘‘co-production,’’ which
refers to a dialectical process whereby knowledge making is constitutive, insofar as it
constructs particular social realities, even as a given social order shapes the nature and
By lack of environmental integrity, we mean a discrepancy between what is accounted for, and what the
Speciﬁcally, we analyzed all country submissions made between January 2014 and June 2015 on ‘‘ele-
ments for a 2015 agreement’’ to Workstream 1 of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform
(ADP) for references to land-use (encompassing 43 submissions).
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…485
prospects of such knowledge making and its (selective) legitimation (Jasanoff 2004, see
also Beck 2015; Fogel 2005).
For our purposes here, we view accounting as such a site of co-production. Viewed
through a governance lens, we further conceptualize co-production as the twin processes of
governing (i.e., disciplining)expertise and governing by expertise. These terms build on
two much analyzed phenomena within science and technology studies: the politicization of
science and the scientization of politics (Jasanoff 1998; Weingart 1999; Sarewitz 2004).
The ﬁrst, politicization of science, refers to the selective evoking of technical knowledge to
further speciﬁc political interests and agendas, which we refer to here as governing
expertise. Its mirror process, scientization (or technicalization) of politics, draws attention
to how key morally charged and politically contested questions become translated into, and
debated within, the potentially exclusionary, arcane, and technically impenetrable lan-
guage of science, which may be accessible only to a select elite group of experts (see also
Jasnoff 2003; Gupta 2011; Gupta et al. 2012).
In using ‘‘governing expertise’’ and ‘‘governing by expertise’’ to capture these two
interrelated dynamics, our interest here is not only to show how politics and knowledge
making are intertwined, but also to draw attention to the governance outcomes that ﬂow
from this. We do this through analyzing, inter alia, the Kyoto Protocol’s LULUCF
accounting rules as a site of political conﬂict, and how these rules have shaped the nature
and scope of land-based mitigation within the UNFCCC.
3 Negotiating land-based mitigation in the current multilateral climate
This section analyzes the twin processes of governing (i.e., disciplining) expertise and
governing by expertise, with regard to land-based mitigation within current multilateral
climate governance. We discuss, ﬁrst, the political decision taken within the UNFCCC’s
Kyoto Protocol to allow developed countries to include the land sector in meeting their
mandatory emission reduction targets under this agreement and the associated crucial
assumption of fungibility (between terrestrial and industrial emissions) accompanying this
decision. We then turn to an analysis of the LULUCF accounting rules negotiated sub-
sequent to this political decision, which impact upon the scope, scale, and manner in which
land sector mitigation has been relied upon by developed countries to date.
3.1 Governing (disciplining) expertise: agreeing on fungibility
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in December 1997, introduced legally binding emission
reduction targets for developed countries for the ﬁrst time. These targets were set for
economy-wide industrial emissions, excluding the land sector.
However, the land sector
was subsequently included under the rubric of land-use, land-use change, and forestry
(LULUCF) as a means through which to meet targets on the ﬁnal day of negotiations in
Kyoto (UNFCCC 1997). The inclusion of LULUCF was contentious from the start, given
that such inclusion had the potential to weaken commitments to reduce GHG emissions
from industrial sources (Fry 2002; Schlamadinger et al. 2007). Tensions arose because of
the potential for some countries to meet their Kyoto targets solely or largely through
claiming signiﬁcant LULUCF removals, effectively offsetting emissions from the
See Annex A to the Kyoto Protocol.
486 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
industrial sector and thus relieving these countries of the need to substantially reduce
industrial emissions (Lo
This was evident, for example, from arguments made by some members of the so-called
Umbrella Group of countries, who called for comprehensive inclusion of LULUCF.
one interviewee involved in the Kyoto negotiations noted, ‘‘the Chair was told by Umbrella
Group countries (US, Canada, Norway, Russia, Iceland), that there is no way we will agree
[to the Kyoto Protocol] unless we can credit some land use activities.’’
The Alliance of
Small Island States (AOSIS), in particular the Marshall Islands and Barbados, as well as
Costa Rica and Brazil, preferred to limit reliance on terrestrial sinks or exclude them
altogether (Earth Negotiations Bulletin 1997), while the European Union (EU) remained
internally divided over the issue.
While the details of these dynamics have been analyzed elsewhere (e.g., Fogel 2005;
Fry 2002,2007), we draw attention to two aspects below: the assumption of fungibility that
underpins use of LULUCF to meet developed country Kyoto targets, which entailed a
disciplining of scientiﬁc knowledge, and offset mechanisms negotiated under the UNFCCC
and Kyoto, which also assume fungibility and implicate the land sector in developing
countries as well.
3.1.1 Fungibility between terrestrial and industrial emissions
The conﬂicts over inclusion of LULUCF in the Kyoto Protocol were due in part to abiding
contestations over the assumption of fungibility, i.e., the assumption that avoided emis-
sions and removals from the land sector were interchangeable with emission reductions
from fossil fuels. This assumption remained singularly contested. Brazil, for example,
‘‘wanted LULUCF completely out of Kyoto, raising all of the legitimate scientiﬁc ques-
tions about this. They didn’t want any kind of cheating which was related to the
accounting. In principle they thought [Kyoto] should be an energy convention, making it
also about forests made it much more complicated.’’
This was also because, if included in
the Kyoto Protocol, special accounting rules would be needed for LULUCF, given the
unique complexities of the sector that prevented easy comparison between fossil and
terrestrial emissions. As we noted earlier, land is the only sector where CO
is not only
emitted (via forest burning and clearing and land-use change for agriculture, among other
activities), but also sequestered (via photosynthesis). As such, there were a wide variety of
political positions articulated at this time on why and how the land sector was different, and
thus how valid the assumption of fungibility was.
Fungibility was simultaneously much debated in scientiﬁc circles and continues to be.
While some see it as unproblematic (e.g., Estrada et al. 2014; Lee et al. 2015; Parker et al.
2014), others outline key technical barriers to comparability between land and fossil
The Umbrella Group is a negotiating bloc of non-EU developed countries. During Kyoto negotiations, it
consisted of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and
USA. Japan initially opposed inclusion of sinks, but later agreed, when under pressure to take on a higher
emission reduction target (Interview with developing country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 9, 2015).
Interview with developing country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 9, 2015.
Developing country negotiator, Bonn, June 9, 2015.
Interviews with ﬁve developed country and seven developing country negotiators, as well as two
LULUCF experts, conducted in person in Bonn, Germany, in June and October; and in Paris, France in
December; and via telephone between July and October, 2015.
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…487
emissions, including inter alia, high levels of uncertainty in monitoring land-based emis-
sions; difﬁculties in distinguishing between anthropogenic and natural causes of land-based
emissions and removals; and non-permanence of removals (Fry 2002; Hansen et al. 2013;
Mackey et al. 2013; Powlson et al. 2011).
For example, with regard to non-permanence of soil carbon sequestration, Powlson et al.
have expressed concern that ‘‘the possibilities for climate change mitigation by this means
may be exaggerated…even though these limitations have been clearly enunciated in
numerous publications’’ (2011, 43–52). Fry (2002, 162) has observed that the early
LULUCF discussions ‘‘lacked a critical analysis of the efﬁcacy of sinks projects, despite
the fact that…, there were a number of scientiﬁc articles questioning the efﬁcacy of
LULUCF activities.’’ The sustained scientiﬁc critique and persisting debates around the
efﬁcacy and mitigation potential of terrestrial sinks ultimately did not impede the inclusion
of LULUCF in the Kyoto Protocol, indicating that sequestration science (i.e., the science of
removing emissions through terrestrial sinks) was selectively evoked by policy experts in
this realm to align knowledge with a politically desired outcome—the use of sinks in
The political decision to assume fungibility between terrestrial and industrial emissions
also laid the basis for including land-based mitigation in developing countries within the
parameters of the Kyoto Protocol. This was achieved through the Clean Development
Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, which allowed developed countries to partially
meet their Kyoto targets by purchasing credits generated from emission reduction projects
in developing countries (i.e., offsetting ongoing emissions in one place with reductions in
another). Reliance on land-based mitigation was more limited in the CDM than under
LULUCF, largely due to the sheer scale of potential credits the unrestricted inclusion of
land could yield (given higher deforestation rates, and greater land areas in developing
countries). Hence, ‘‘avoided deforestation’’ as an offsetting activity was excluded from the
CDM all together, and reliance on terrestrial sinks was limited to the speciﬁc activities of
afforestation and reforestation, and capped at 1 % of Kyoto targets annually (Ho
¨hne et al.
2007). This followed particular opposition to the inclusion of avoided deforestation as a
crediting activity in the CDM, with Brazil, China and AOSIS raising concerns about the
potential for such credits to offset an increase in developed country (industrial) emissions
In 2005, a new proposal was made within the UNFCCC to incentivize avoided defor-
estation in developing countries (thus far excluded from the CDM). Established as a
voluntary mechanism, whereby developing countries could receive ﬁnancial incentives to
reduce emissions from forest loss and enhance sequestration, REDD?
has now been
included in the Paris Agreement as a results-based payment mechanism (UNFCCC 2015,
Article 5.2). Furthermore, despite current lack of clarity regarding who (the host or donor
country) can credit any resultant emission reductions, REDD?accounting rules have been
developed to potentially enable REDD?credits to be used as offsets by purchasing
This point was also made in an author interview with developing country negotiator, Bonn, Germany,
June 9, 2015.
REDD?refers to the agreed eligible activities in developing countries, which are: reducing emissions
from deforestation and forest degradation; conservation of forest carbon stocks; sustainable management of
forests; and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
488 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
countries or entities. This possibility has led to contentious debates within the UNFCCC
over the stringency of veriﬁcation required for REDD?results (Dutschke 2013), with
many developing country negotiators noting that REDD?accounting rules are stricter than
those that developed countries adhere to in crediting their own LULUCF activities.
Limiting terrestrial sinks in the CDM and developing strict accounting rules for
REDD?can be seen as political compromises in response to concerns expressed by the
EU and AOSIS, among others, over both the environmental integrity and social impacts of
land-based offset projects in developing countries (Fry 2002), even as the scientiﬁc debate
over fungibility has remained unchanged.
These political decisions on including land-based mitigation in the climate regime,
accompanied by a selective evoking (or ignoring) of scientiﬁc disputes over fungibility,
shaped negotiation of LULUCF accounting rules, to which we turn next.
3.2 Governing by expertise: accounting rules and a technicalization of politics
Once the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, along with the assumption of fungibility between
terrestrial and industrial emissions, negotiations began on developing accounting rules for
the land-use sector within the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological
Advice (SBSTA). This technical negotiating site saw LULUCF negotiators employing
complex scientiﬁc arguments about the intricacies of accounting for terrestrial emissions
and removals, yet doing so in a way that suited their speciﬁc circumstances, i.e., the
varying potentials in different countries for relying on land-based mitigation in meeting
In analyzing these dynamics here, we review below the contested negotiations around,
ﬁrst, the scope and scale of permitted land-based mitigation and, second, baselines and
reference levels against which to account for land-based mitigation.
3.2.1 Scope and scale
Scope (i.e., which land-use activities were to be included) and scale (i.e., limits on land-
based mitigation) quickly became among the most divisive issues in negotiating LULUCF
accounting rules (Ho
¨hne et al. 2007; Schlamadinger et al. 2007). The Umbrella Group (in
particular Canada and the USA) with large forest areas wanted a broad scope and no limits
on using LULUCF to offset industrial emissions. China and the G-77, as well as AOSIS,
opposed this position.
The political compromise reached was to develop an accounting innovation: the ac-
tivity-based approach to LULUCF accounting, i.e., accounting for speciﬁc land-related
activities, rather than land areas. A widely asserted technical reason for this was to help
distinguish between anthropogenic (i.e., managed) terrestrial emissions and removals from
Several interviewees from developing countries made the point that REDD?accounting and safeguard
rules are stricter than LULUCF rules for developed countries. Interviews conducted in Bonn, Germany, June
9 and 11, and via telephone November 21, 2015.
Author interviews with several developing country negotiators, in Bonn, Germany, June 9, 11, and
October 21, 2015. See also Fry (2007) and Lo
An exhaustive account of all land-use accounting rules is beyond the scope of this paper. For compre-
hensive discussion of land-use rules see also, e.g., Estrada et al. (2014), Ho
¨hne et al. (2007), Iversen et al.
(2014), Parker et al. (2014), Schlamadinger et al. (2007).
Interview with developing country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 9, 2015.
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…489
natural carbon ﬂuxes. Once an activity-based approach was selected, however, another key
axis of conﬂict became whether all land-related activities were to be mandatory or whether
countries could choose which ones (if any) to rely upon in meeting their Kyoto targets.
Countries negotiated extensively on this, with the political implications of these choices
obscured by technically complex discussions of GHG ﬂuxes associated with each desig-
nated activity. Eventually, only the activities of forest clearing and forest planting (since
1990) were declared to be mandatory to account for. Countries could choose whether or not
to account for other land-use activities, including forest management, which is potentially a
large source of both emissions and removals (Ecosystems Climate Alliance 2009).
While some existing analyses of this negotiated division between mandatory and vol-
untary activities for LULUCF accounting emphasize the technical rationales underpinning
them (e.g., Ho
¨hne et al. 2007; Schlamadinger et al. 2007), others point to the political
contestations underlying these decisions (e.g., Fry 2002, and Lo
¨vbrand 2009). In particular,
the decision to characterize forest management as a voluntary activity became one of the
most heavily criticized aspects of LULUCF accounting rules in the Kyoto Protocol’s ﬁrst
commitment period (2008–2012), given signiﬁcant under-reporting of forest-related
emissions that became possible as a result (for details, see Daviet and Goers 2009).
In addition to deciding on which activities to include, LULUCF accounting rules also
addressed limits on the use of terrestrial sources and sinks (i.e., the scale of permitted
inclusion). As one developing country negotiator put it, ‘‘If you set the bar too high (i.e.,
with strict limits on inclusion), (countries) will not participate and you get nothing. If the
bar is too low, you do not reduce emissions. It is very hard to balance.’’
The key concern
was that in the absence of limits, the scale of land sector emissions and removals could
outweigh efforts to reduce industrial emissions (Ho
¨hne et al. 2007). While this was widely
recognized, the withdrawal of the USA from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 ironically
strengthened the hand of other Umbrella Group countries in securing more widespread
reliance on land-based mitigation within Kyoto, given the need to keep these countries on
board (Fry 2002;Lo
With the discussion on scale and limits remaining heated, the EU eventually called for
caps (‘‘allowable limits’’) on LULUCF use by each Kyoto Party, as a compromise. As one
developed country negotiator put it, ‘‘When you’re really uncertain [about your accounting
rules] the political solution is to put a cap.’’
While AOSIS countries demanded an in-
depth scientiﬁc analysis of proposed caps, given the collective potential of such caps to
meet more than half the Kyoto Protocol’s overall emission reduction target (den Elzen and
Lucas 2003; cited in Ho
¨hne et al. 2007), political expediency saw little such analysis. The
compromise reached was for countries to politically negotiate their own cap on LULUCF,
which had the effect of generating substantial credits that countries could use in meeting
their Kyoto targets.
3.2.2 Baselines and reference levels
How negotiation of LULUCF accounting rules serves as a site of political conﬂict was also
evident in debates around the baselines against which to assess terrestrial emissions and
removals in a given period. Agreeing on baselines is substantially more complex for the
land sector than it is for industrial emissions, given that land is the only sector with
emissions as well as removals. Industrial emission reductions are straightforwardly
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 10, 2015.
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 6, 2015.
490 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
assessed through a gross–gross baseline approach, wherein emissions in a base year are
compared with emissions in the reporting period (Rocha et al. 2015). However, inclusion
of emissions and removals in the same accounting framework requires, logically, a net–net
A net–net approach, i.e., comparing emissions minus removals in the base year
against emissions minus removals in the reporting period, would maintain the symmetry of
the gross–gross approach (Rocha et al. 2015; Schlamadinger et al. 2007). While scien-
tiﬁcally tenable, the political challenge of using a net–net approach, however, is that any
increase in emissions from the land sector in the reporting period would make targets more
difﬁcult to meet.
This possibility is exacerbated by the fact that forest management
decisions of the past determine whether managed forests are a net source or a net sink
during any given period (referred to as legacy effects), leading to most countries with
Kyoto targets refusing to accept a net–net accounting approach.
Given this opposition to net–net accounting, a much more complex approach to base-
lines for the land sector was negotiated: the ‘‘gross-net’’ accounting approach. This does
not include emissions and removals from forest-related activities in the baseline, which
reﬂects only industrial emissions, but does allow for both industrial and (selected) forest-
related activities to be accounted for during the subsequent reporting and commitment
period (Iversen et al. 2014). The gross-net approach is favoured by those countries with an
overall forest sink (i.e., where terrestrial removals are higher than terrestrial emissions in a
commitment period), making overall targets easier to meet. As a result, it has been criti-
cized for permitting unearned or ‘‘windfall’’ credits (Daviet and Goers 2009; Rocha et al.
2015) for such countries.
The gross-net approach was, however, not supported by countries where the forest
sector is an overall source of emissions (i.e., where emissions from deforestation are higher
than removals through forest planting), given that these emissions would then be added to
overall targets, making them harder to meet (Rocha et al. 2015). As one negotiator put it,
‘‘ …if you have any kind of rule which is just—deforestation is really bad, you have to
debit it—then straight away any country with high deforestation is going to have very high
emissions under that accounting framework.’’
However, very few developed countries
have high deforestation rates (Australia being a notable exception
), making the decision
to have a gross-net LULUCF accounting approach for Kyoto politically feasible. It proved,
furthermore, to be a boon for those countries (including in the EU) with low deforestation
rates but with intensive forest management, given that forest management was a voluntary
activity that could be excluded from consideration in meeting ﬁrst commitment period
The contested process of negotiating politically palatable (but also scientiﬁcally
defensible) baselines continued for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol
(2013–2019). One key change was that forest management became a mandatory activity
This point was made in several interviews, including with a developed country negotiator, Bonn, Ger-
many, June 11, a LULUCF policy expert via telephone June 16, and an NGO representative in Paris, France
December 9, 2015.
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 11, 2015.
However, a net–net approach is accepted for cropland and grazing lands, where carbon stocks can be
affected in short time periods through management practices (Schlamadinger et al. 2007).
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 11, 2015.
As a result, Australia negotiated a special clause in the Kyoto Protocol (Article 3.7), allowing it to apply
net–net accounting to deforestation (otherwise only applied to cropland and grazing land management),
resulting in signiﬁcant windfall credits as deforestation rates dropped from historical highs (Macintosh
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…491
for the Kyoto second commitment period, following intense NGO lobbying to close
With this, however, the EU, together with some Umbrella Group
countries, insisted on revisiting the gross-net baseline accounting approach for the speciﬁc
activity of forest management in the Kyoto second commitment period, once it became
mandatory to include.
With the ﬂexibility to exclude this activity now removed, and the accounting beneﬁts
that this ﬂexibility had earlier conferred now gone, the EU called for forest management
not to be subject to a gross-net baseline, but rather for development of a so-called Forest
Management Reference Level (FMRL) (Iversen et al. 2014
). The use of reference levels
is another unique accounting innovation in this context, developed as a political com-
promise between those trying to improve the credibility of accounting rules and those
wanting to maintain ﬂexibility in use of LULUCF to meet targets.
The FMRL means that instead of a baseline against which to judge performance in a
given period, countries can propose a quantiﬁed (expected) future level of performance (in
terms of net emissions from forest management) and compare this against actual emissions
at the end of a commitment period (Rocha et al. 2015). Known as a ‘‘projected reference
level,’’ the FMRL was seen by the EU as crucial to avoid the problems of legacy effects
associated with forest management, but was also subject to a cap to avoid excessive credits.
However, any use of reference levels opens up the possibility of inﬂating future expec-
tations of emissions, in order to make targets easier to meet. As one developed country
negotiator put it, ‘‘The projected reference level is the most politically feasible [accounting
approach] to agree on, there are problems with it, but the alternatives also have problems.
[It is] used for political agreement.’’
It is also important to note here, in concluding, that the REDD?mechanism also relies
on reference levels (rather than baselines) in assessing performance, allowing countries to
set business-as-usual (BAU) expectations for increases in deforestation and to receive
credits for any improvement against these BAU expectations. The credibility of the ref-
erence level approach is heavily reliant on technical review (Briner and Konrad 2014). Yet
reviews remain fraught with challenges, given extensive scientiﬁc uncertainties and
varying political expectations. Analysis has shown that the level of credits from LULUCF
varies widely depending on plausible interpretations of accounting rules (Bo
The discussion above shows how the inclusion of land-use to date in the multilateral
climate regime reﬂects politically negotiated compromises, despite the ostensibly technical
character of LULUCF accounting rules. One dominant response to perceived LULUCF
‘‘loopholes’’ has been to advocate improved rules and increased ambition through ensuring
that negotiations are ‘‘based on sound science,’’ with greater reliance on data sets to assess
the impact of various options (Ho
¨hne et al. 2007, 354). Yet, the reality that ‘‘LULUCF is a
negotiated system that tries to work around competing national interests’’
the notion that ‘‘sound’’ science-based rules, seen as credible by all on the basis of their
From interview with NGO representative, Paris, France, December 8, 2015.
Iversen et al. point to the mandatory inclusion of forest management as one of the reasons behind the
FMRL; interviews with country negotiations in Bonn, Germany, June 9 and October 21, as well as an NGO
representative in Paris, France, December 9, also raise this issue.
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 6, 2015.
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 6, 2015.
492 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
technical merits, can be devised. As one negotiator put it, ‘‘there is no perfect rule—what
seems fair to one is an extra burden for another.’’
As several interviewees have also noted, however, country-speciﬁc data on land-use
emissions have improved as a result of requirements for LULUCF accounting, with one
land-use expert adding that ‘‘except in a few countries, fears of LULUCF credits swamping
Kyoto targets did not materialise.’’
This notwithstanding, our discussion highlights how
LULUCF was introduced into the Kyoto Protocol to make developed country emission
reduction targets easier to meet. Through political negotiations and compromise, complex
accounting rules were designed to both permit and limit the degree to which terrestrial
sinks could be used to offset industrial emissions.
In a post-2020 climate regime, where land is expected to play a more prominent role,
any approach to mitigation that focuses on ‘‘net’’ emissions (i.e., emissions minus
removals), while obscuring the politics hidden in land-use accounting, runs the risk of not
delivering the required ambition and potentially exacerbating inequitable burden sharing.
We turn to these issues next.
4 Negotiating land-based mitigation in the Paris Agreement
The architecture of the post-2020 climate regime differs from that of the Kyoto Protocol. In
contrast to having multilaterally negotiated emission reduction targets for countries, the
overall ambition level is agreed multilaterally in the Paris Agreement through the tem-
perature goal (Article 2.1) and the long-term mitigation goal (Article 4.1) (UNFCCC
2015). In seeking to further these goals, the Paris Agreement institutionalizes two key
elements: a bottom-up process whereby each country develops its own ‘‘nationally
determined contributions’’ (NDCs) to meeting these aggregate goals, which may include
land-based mitigation, and a multilaterally agreed ‘‘transparency framework’’
which to account for, and report on, the progress that countries are making toward
implementing their NDCs.
As in the previous section, we proceed here by ﬁrst analyzing the dynamics of gov-
erning (i.e., disciplining) expertise that might be discernible in how the land sector is
implicated in the Paris Agreement, with a focus on the long-term mitigation goal. Second,
we consider the current state of debate regarding accounting for land-based mitigation in
the Paris Agreement. Here, we touch brieﬂy upon divergent views over whether a common
accounting framework is required for all countries and associated debates over whether
such a common framework requires countries to take on quantiﬁed targets, including for
the land sector. Through doing so, we illustrate the implications of continuing to rely on a
‘‘governing by expertise’’ approach to land-based mitigation (and its accounting rules) in
the post-2020 era.
Interview with developed country negotiator via telephone, October 13, 2015.
Interview with LULUCF expert via telephone on June 21, 2015. Other interviews, with a developed
country negotiator in Bonn, Germany, June 10, and a LULUCF expert in Paris, France, December 11, also
made this point.
In our discussions below, we focus on accounting issues, rather than on the broader negotiations around a
(common) transparency framework in a new agreement. For an analysis of the contested geopolitics of
transparency in global climate governance, see Gupta and Mason (2016).
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…493
4.1 Governing (disciplining) expertise: land-use and the long-term mitigation
Analyzing the prospects for a disciplining of expertise in the manner in which land is
implicated in the Paris Agreement requires consideration of the long-term mitigation goal
articulated within it. Negotiations on language to capture aggregate mitigation ambition
were long and intense, in the lead up to ﬁnalization of the agreement in Paris. Terminology
such as ‘‘net-zero emissions,’’ ‘‘near zero,’’ carbon or climate neutrality, and decar-
bonization all appeared in the draft text during the course of the negotiations. A mitigation
goal of ‘‘net-zero’’ emissions was particularly contentious, with some seeing this as a
straightforward scientiﬁc statement on an approach to stabilizing atmospheric GHG
while others viewed it as a political license to ‘‘offset industrial emissions
with land-based sinks.’’
The net-zero language was introduced to the UNFCCC discussions after the Intergovern-
mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report included long-term miti-
gation pathways that relied heavily on assumptions of ‘‘negative emissions’’ (meaning the
removal of carbon from the atmosphere via terrestrial sinks, often combined with geological
storage) (IPCC 2014). It was ﬁrst raised during the Lima climate meeting in December 2014,
where New Zealand suggested a mitigation goal of ‘‘net-zero CO
emissions by 2100 in line
with the latest science.’’
Such a positionreceived vocal support from Switzerland,
noted that by ascribing ‘‘the latest science’’a legal role in the ofﬁcial text ‘‘we might be creating
Bolivia, Argentina, and Ecuador opposed the use of ‘‘net-zero’’ on the
grounds thatit introduced a new concept that did not appear in the FrameworkConvention, or in
Norway and the EU supported the terms carbon or climate neutrality,
the USA preferred ‘‘decarbonisation of the global economy’’ (Ajit 2015a).
With no consensus emerging, the ambiguous language that became the long-term
mitigation goal in the Paris Agreement calls for a ‘‘peaking of greenhouse gas emissions…
as soon as possible’’ (i.e., without identifying a speciﬁc time frame, or a speciﬁc limit on
emissions) to be achieved through ‘‘a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources
and removals by sinks’’ (UNFCCC 2015, Article 4.1). The term ‘‘removals by sinks’’
leaves open the possibility of continuing industrial and terrestrial emissions, as long as
these are (ostensibly) being offset by enhancement of sinks.
It is important to note here that the wording of this long-term mitigation goal is very
close to the contentiously negotiated paragraph on inclusion of land-use in the Kyoto
Protocol, which refers to ‘‘net changes in greenhouse gas emissions by sources and
removals by sinks’’ (UNFCCC 1997, Article 3.3, italics added). A key difference is that the
Kyoto Protocol deﬁnes the use of sinks as ‘‘limited to afforestation, reforestation and
Author interview with LULUCF expert, Paris, France, December 8, 2015.
Interview with NGO representative, Bonn, Germany, October 20, 2015.
Author personal observation, COP 21 Lima, December 6, 2014.
Author personal observation, Geneva, February 8, 2015.
These points were raised frequently by these countries and were observed during open meetings on the
long-term goal during the September 2015 negotiating session in Bonn, Germany.
The position of the EU and Norway on the long-term goal changed throughout the year, from supporting
net-zero in the Bonn September session to calling for carbon and climate neutrality during the Paris
negotiations, as an alternative to the opposition from developing countries on net-zero (author observations;
see also Ajit 2015a).
494 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
deforestation since 1990’’ (UNFCCC 1997, Article 3.3), which circumscribes and limits
the activities that qualify as ‘‘removals by sinks.’’ A second key difference is placement
and context. Article 4.1 in the Paris Agreement is the collective long-term mitigation goal,
while the mitigation goal in the Kyoto Protocol reads, ‘‘Parties shall limit the emissions of
the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A’’ (which refers to energy and industrial emissions,
excluding terrestrial emissions) to ‘‘not exceed their assigned amounts’’ (UNFCCC 1997,
Article 3.1), thus, with a clear focus on reducing emissions from fossil fuel use.
Reliance on land-based mitigation in the Kyoto Protocol was introduced after targets for
industrial emission reductions were set (as discussed in Sect. 3), and was limited from the
start (although the precise nature of these limits remained the subject of political debates).
In the Paris Agreement, on the other hand, land-based sinks have moved from being a
politically contested add-on to occupying center stage in the long-term mitigation goal, as
laid down in Article 4.1.
But why exactly does Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement implicate land, and to what
extent might this reﬂect a governing (or disciplining) of expertise, with implications for
environmental integrity and ambition? ‘‘Balancing emissions and removals’’ effectively
means the same as ‘‘net-zero emissions,’’ carbon neutrality, and similar terminology (Levin
et al. 2015), which all imply that terrestrial sinks are both fungible with, and will be used to
offset, ongoing (industrial and terrestrial) emissions (Schaeffer et al. 2013).
So while a goal that essentially puts the world on a pathway toward net-zero global
emissions appears ambitious, Article 4.1 says nothing about the scale of reliance on land-
based mitigation that would be required to meet this global mitigation goal, nor the speed
and timing of a concurrent reduction in fossil fuel use, hence obscuring political questions
around when, how and by whom emissions are reduced. Going beyond this, and of direct
relevance to the governing (disciplining) of expertise, the varied scientiﬁc uncertainties and
contestations around the sequestration potential and permanence of terrestrial sinks, as
debated during the Kyoto period, remain salient for the Paris Agreement, leaving open the
prospect that scientiﬁc expertise will (continue to be) selectively evoked in justifying
speciﬁc efforts at ‘‘balancing emissions and removals’’ in the decades to come.
4.2 Governing by expertise: technicalizing (politics of) land-use accounting?
With the land sector set to play a crucial and open-ended role in future climate mitigation
under the Paris Agreement, a politically charged question is how accounting for this sector
will occur in the post-2020 climate mitigation era, whether a common accounting frame-
work is required for all countries, and if this requires countries to take on quantiﬁed targets,
including for the land sector. These debates are linked in turn to overarching conﬂicts over
differentiation in obligations between developed and developing countries, in an agreement
that is ‘‘applicable to all.’’
During negotiation of the Paris Agreement, the EU and the USA took the position that
the purpose of a common accounting framework was to permit comparability, which in
turn required quantiﬁed targets (Ajit 2015b). Whether all countries should provide quan-
tiﬁed targets thus became, and remains, a particularly contentious issue, tied up with
fundamental conﬂicts over whether inclusion of the land sector in NDCs is to be voluntary
or mandatory and also whether the land sector can be included in any new market
mechanisms (established via Article 6 of the Paris Agreement).
Throughout the negotiations, countries proposed a variety of approaches to mitigation
commitments, ranging from quantiﬁed economy-wide emission reduction targets (e.g.,
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…495
); a diversity of mitigation actions for developing countries,
including emissions intensity targets (China
); and commitments to qualitative policies
and measures (Nepal
). This debate has particular relevance for the land sector, due to the
difﬁculty of quantifying land sector emissions and the complexity of including these in an
accounting framework that includes industrial emissions, as discussed in Sect. 3.
The Paris Agreement leaves discussions of a (common) accounting framework and
speciﬁc rules for land-use accounting, to future negotiations.
We provide here (in
Table 1) a brief overview of a few intended
NDCs (INDCs) proposed by countries in the
lead up to the Paris meeting, in order to reveal the diversity of approaches currently being
adopted to land-use (and land-use accounting) in the context of the Paris Agreement, and to
the scope and scale of such inclusion.
Table 1provides a glimpse into the political conﬂicts that are likely to come to the fore
in determining (and accounting for) the contribution of the land sector to countries’ mit-
igation commitments. As a developed country negotiator noted about the politically con-
tested nature of land sector accounting, ‘‘…in the context of a new agreement, capacities of
countries are more diverse, so this adds more complexity to the idea of a common
framework [for land-based mitigation]. It is difﬁcult to ﬁnd common accounting rules that
suit all…sinks have evolved differently in different countries, leading to ﬁghting over
accounting rules to suit national circumstances.’’
The diversity of country circumstances in the land sector also complicates the idea of
comparability of effort. A recent comprehensive assessment of countries’ INDCs by Grassi
and Dentener (2015) indicates a potential LULUCF mitigation contribution of 20–25 %,
relative to other sectors, by 2030. This implies that the land sector is expected to be a
signiﬁcant component of mitigation efforts in the future, even as the authors note large
uncertainties in these estimates ‘‘due to countries projections and accounting rules’’
(Grassi and Dentener 2015, 13, italics in original). The INDC Synthesis Report, produced
by the UNFCCC Secretariat, further adds that ‘‘several of the INDCs do not provide
comprehensive information on the assumptions and methods applied in relation to
LULUCF, which presents a major challenge for the quantitative evaluation of the aggre-
gate effect of the INDCs’’ (UNFCCC 2016, 6).
The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP): the 2015 Agreement.
Submission by Italy and the European Commission on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
Rome, October 14, 2014.
Elements of the 2015 Agreement: Switzerland’s views, March 4, 2014.
Norway submission to the ADP, March 6, 2014.
Views and proposals on the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced
Action. Submission by Nepal on behalf of the Least Developed Countries Group, March 17, 2014.
China’s submission on the work of the Ad hoc Working Group on Durban Platform, March 6, 2014.
Multiple interviewees emphasized capacity constraints facing developing countries, including three
developed and seven developing country negotiators, one policy advisor, and one NGO representative,
interviews undertaken in Bonn, Germany, June 6-11; by telephone July–October, and in Paris, France,
December 11, 2015.
Paragraphs 31, 37, 38 of Decision 1/CP.21 contain mandates for further negotiations to develop
accounting rules (UNFCCC 2015).
In 2015, countries submitted intended NDCs, which are expected to become NDCs when the Paris
Agreement enters into force in 2020.
It is outside the scope of this paper to analyze all submitted INDCs; our discussion here is illustrative,
rather than comprehensive.
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 10, 2015.
496 K. Dooley, A. Gupta
The diversity of country circumstances and approaches, as demonstrated in INDCs,
points to the difﬁculty of having a common accounting framework for the land sector,
which is highlighted in the politics of deciding upon baselines or reference levels for
terrestrial emissions. Some countries argue that common accounting rules for all would be
feasible, including for the land sector, as long as ﬂexibility exists to set land-based miti-
gation reference levels appropriate to national circumstances.
As one developed country
LULUCF negotiator pointed out, ‘‘the key point is having the ﬂexibility to set appropriate
baselines, and I think a lot of developing countries don’t realize that [by doing so] they
could bring their whole land sector in and set baselines that create an expectation of zero
debits, zero credits.’’
This implies, however, that ﬂexible accounting rules might come to
be seen as a means for countries to report net-zero emissions, rather than as a means by
which to facilitate emission reductions. While ﬂexibility in the setting of reference levels
and/or baselines (to accommodate whether land is a net source or net sink of emissions for
a given country at any given period of time) would be a politically plausible way for
developed and developing countries, with radically different land-use scenarios, to agree to
common accounting rules for the land sector, such an approach would obscure real
emissions from this sector.
Table 1 Overview of land-use inclusion in selected INDCs
Country Mitigation commitment Land-use inclusion Observations
Australia 26–28 % below 2005 by
Included in economy-wide
accounting based on
IPCC guidance for natural
disturbance and variation
EU At least 40 % below 1990 by
Included in economy-wide
target, but accounting
rules are yet to be
Inclusion of LULUCF may
weaken 40 % target, depending
on accounting rules used
Mexico Unconditional target of
25 % (conditional pledge
of up to 40 %) below BAU
0 % deforestation by 2030
included as an adaptation
Conditional pledge will require
market mechanisms; no
reference to accounting rules
30 % below 2005 by 2030 Included in economy-wide
target and will build on
Kyoto Protocol rules
Provisional target pending
approaches taken to land sector
accounting and access to
Norway 40 % below 1990 by 2030 Included in economy-wide
target, but accounting
rules dependent on EU
Inclusion of land sector and
subsequent accounting rules
shall not reduce 40 % target
Russia 25–30 % below 1990 by
Included in economy-wide
Signiﬁcant uncertainty around
accounting assumptions for
US 26–28 % below 2005 by
Net–net accounting for land
Notes methodological challenges
to estimating emissions in land
Based on author analysis of selected INDCs submitted in 2015 that included the land sector
Interview with developed country negotiator, Bonn, Germany, June 11, 2015.
Governing by expertise: the contested politics of…497
More generally, this highlights the inadequacy of a ‘‘governing by expertise’’ approach
to addressing the social and political questions inherent in the role of land in moving
toward a zero-carbon future. Rather than technicalizing what are fundamentally political
conﬂicts, future discussions on the scale, scope, and accounting approaches to land-based
mitigation face the challenge of how to reveal and engage with, rather than obscure, the
political choices and trade-offs therein.
5 Conclusion: breaking new ground or allowing history to repeat?
In the recently negotiated Paris Agreement, land-based mitigation has moved from an
earlier marginal and contested role in multilateral climate politics to center stage. This is in
large part due to the assumed reliance on ‘‘negative emissions’’ in the second half of the
century, introduced into the debate through IPCC mitigation scenarios (IPCC 2014) and
now implicated in the long-term mitigation goal. As we have shown here, (over)-reliance
on land-based sinks could have far-reaching political consequences, given the likely dis-
tributional impacts of land-based mitigation, and concerns over fungibility in using ter-
restrial sinks to offset industrial emissions. Furthermore, accounting rules for the land
sector remain a crucial site wherein the level of ambition in the new agreement, and
allocation of responsibility and burden sharing among countries, will be negotiated.
The current state of play on these issues is that the Paris Agreement sets no direct limits
on ‘‘balancing’’ emissions with removals, although it does say that the ‘‘balancing’’ must
be done ‘‘on the basis of equity,’’ and ‘‘in the context of sustainable development and
poverty eradication’’ (UNFCCC 2015, Article 4.1). This notwithstanding, in a context
where removals via terrestrial sinks are expected to make a signiﬁcant contribution to
achieving the long-term mitigation goal, this implies a need for land to shift, eventually,
from being a net source globally to a net sink. Yet the distributional consequences of this
remain crucial to analyze, with existing models ‘‘universal[ly] projecting that the majority
of agriculture and forestry mitigation, and bioenergy primary energy, will occur in
developing and transitional economies’’ (IPCC 2014, 68). With this in mind, our analysis
reveals the need for a more open political debate over diverse mitigation pathways and
their implications over the course of the century, one which takes into account the social
and environmental limits to land-based mitigation. Negotiating limits to land-based miti-
gation that consider not only the technical, but also the political, socioeconomic and equity
aspects is necessary, in determining how much, where, and what type of land-based
abatement can reasonably be relied upon for climate mitigation.
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