The politics of carbon accounting: land use emissions in a post 2020 climate agreement

The politics of carbon accounting: land use emissions in a post 2020 climate agreement

Thursday, 20 November 2014 - 9:00am to 10:00am

Emissions from land-use change (largely deforestation and agriculture) contribute roughly a quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Despite the centrality of these processes for rural communities, particularly in the developing world, policy makers at times assume a 70 percent near-term reduction from land use emissions is feasible. The climatic impact of terrestrial ecosystems remains highly uncertain, both in terms of our understanding of their contribution to climate processes, and the potential for weakening of biological sinks with increased atmospheric warming. This uncertainty increases pressure for precision in measuring terrestrial carbon flows, so as to include them in a global carbon accounting regime, leading to a technical approach to land use accounting rules.


This thesis examines two possible risks that result from such an approach to land-use governance in national and international responses to climate change:


i)               There is a tendency to downplay uncertainties in terrestrial carbon monitoring. Reliance on land-use related mitigation, given these uncertainties, has the potential to undermine the environmental integrity and efficacy of the broader climate regime; and


ii)              The reliance on scientific knowledge potentially privileges expert knowledge. In processes of policy making that stretch from local to international settings, this risks undermining local rights to land-use related resources.


Drawing on critical political ecology and science and technology studies, this thesis will examine national and international policy processes in land-use governance for climate abatement to make visible the link between science and politics, and interrogate the nature of expertise in the policy making process.

Event Location: 
Room B124
207 Bouverie St

Kate Dooley undertook a PhD at the University of Melbourne investigating the science-policy interface around terrestrial carbon science in international climate politics. 

Kate holds an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, and a BA from Latrobe University. For the past 10 years Kate has worked with environmental non-governmental organisations on forests, climate change and human rights, particularly the European Union’s policy responses to forest governance reforms and illegal logging, and the development of the REDD+ mechanism (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) at the UNFCCC. She has been following the UN climate negotiations since 2009, and has published on equity and human rights, distributive climate justice, and illegal logging and trade. 

PhD Project: The politics of accounting: equitable approaches to land-use in a carbon constrained world

Emissions from agriculture and land-use contribute roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet at the same time the land sector is crucial to the pursuit of sustainable development and poverty eradication. The newly concluded Paris Agreement raises the possibility of unprecedented reliance on land-based mitigation, with its long-term goal of achieving a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”. A key dilemma is how to secure land-based mitigation so as to enhance ambitious climate action, while providing synergies between climate and development goals. 

The research addresses these questions through examining a “governing by expertise” approach in negotiations on land-use accounting rules and the co-production of science and policy in model-based assumptions for long-term mitigation pathways. These approaches are found to entail a technicalisation of what are highly contested normative and political questions about who should do what in combating climate change, and what role the land sector should play. The final part of the research assesses the risks associated with land-based negative emissions in the context of sustainable development goals related to land, food and climate. The conclusions explore what this means for the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement, and the environmental integrity and equity implications of large-scale land-based mitigation.

Supervisors: A/Prof. Peter Christoff, Prof. Robyn Eckersley

Start Date: October 2013 Completion: 2018



Web tools and Projects we developed

  • Open-NEM

    The live tracker of the Australian electricity market.

  • Paris Equity Check

    This website is based on a Nature Climate Change study that compares Nationally Determined Contributions with equitable national emissions trajectories in line with the five categories of equity outlined by the IPCC.

  • liveMAGICC Climate Model

    Run one of the most popular reduced-complexity climate carbon cycle models online. Used by IPCC, UNEP GAP reports and numerous scientific publications.

  • NDC & INDC Factsheets

    Check out our analysis of all the post-2020 targets that countries announced under the Paris Agreement.