Should countries be able to count forests as credits against the amount of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases they are allowed to emit? That is perhaps the biggest question that stymied recent negotiations on how to implement the Kyoto Protocol, an international plan to curb global warming by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.
When the agreement was hammered out at a United Nations conference in 1997, the participating countries agreed to count forests planted since 1990 as carbon sinks--and, in doing so, as credits that would offset required cuts in emissions. Oceans and forests absorb more than half of the CO2 put out by burning fossil fuels, so it seemed to make sense to count both sinks and sources in this international accounting game.
This article was originally published with the title Debit or Credit?.