Just for a change, and to show that environmentalists are not immune from internal debate, I will take issue with Greenpeace International on their view of carbon sinks, here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/solutions/policy-corner-kyoto-protocol/cop9-backgrounder
Greenpeace writes regarding carbon sinks (the planting of trees, and other actions, to absorb atmospheric CO2) Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol certain kinds of land use change and forestry activities which can sequester carbon are allowed to be counted toward meeting emissions reduction obligations under the Protocol. The theory is that if a ton of carbon is stored in a tree (a so called 'sink' for carbon) and hence removed from the atmosphere, then a country would be allowed to add a ton of carbon to its allowed emissions of carbon from the burning of fossil fuels. This whole theory that creating 'sinks' in forests, plants and soils, whereby carbon dioxide is taken out of the climate system to offset higher fossil fuel emissions is, according to Greenpeace, quite wrong. Unfortunately, carbon stored in trees is not permanently removed from the atmosphere and there is a high probability that the ton of carbon counted as stored in the tree will find its way back into the atmosphere eventually. The result of this is that the burden of reducing emissions is simply shifted to future generations.
The main point, however, is that the use of sinks must not divert any political and financial resources away from the primary task: to reduce emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Sinks do not even "buy us time", as some have argued. If the industrialized countries do not achieve major emission reductions in the near term, we may lose our ability to avoid dangerous climate change, by anyone's definition. The goal of the Protocol is to reduce emissions, not to create mechanisms for avoiding reductions. Greenpeace seeks to minimize the use of sinks in the Protocol as much as possible, and notes that a number of countries have already pledged that they will not take advantage of this loophole.
GPI:"This whole theory that creating 'sinks' in forests, plants and soils, whereby carbon dioxide is taken out of the climate system to offset higher fossil fuel emissions is, according to Greenpeace, quite wrong."
RL: Well, not quite wrong. Not the theory. If there is a tonne of carbon in a tree, it has taken a tonne out of the air, which is good. Greenpeace is rightly anxious about its use in offsetting higher emissions, but we should be planting trees to absorb our historic emissions, and that as fast as we can, providing they are planted with the co-operation of local communities, and species which are native to the area, and suited to the excected climatic changes during the lifetime of the tree.
GP is worried that the tree may be burned, rightly, because that would return the CO2 to the atmosphere. However, if a tree is harvested and put to good use, to make a beautiful piece of furniture that will be cherished for hundreds of years, or to make a timber framed house that will stand for 500 years, then that CO2 is held down for that period of time.
So there is an advantage to ecologically sensitive reafforestation. It can reduce the atmospheric burden at least for 100 years while the forest is growing (mature forests are CO2 neutral). The forest may also contribute to beneficial climatic change locally, and may help with rainfall patterns.
And forests are good for our souls.
So - more trees please, Greenpeace.