Comprehensive carbon stock and flow accounting: A national framework to support climate change mitigation policy
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Greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories underpinning the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol report each country's net annual emissions, that is GHG flows. Yet the UNFCCC's goal is defined as a stock (atmospheric GHG concentration). Flow inventories are apt for the fossil fuel sector where flows are effectively one way, stock changes are almost entirely anthropogenic, and stocks are stable in the absence of human perturbation. For the land sector, flow-based GHG inventories obscure fundamental differences between ecosystems: in their carbon stock stability, restoration capacity, and density. This paper presents a national carbon accounting framework that is comprehensive and includes stocks as well as flows for reservoirs, lands and activities continuously over time. It complements current flow-based inventories under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. The framework differentiates reservoirs by their role in the global carbon cycle, distinguishing between geocarbon (carbon in the geosphere), biocarbon (carbon in the biosphere) and anthropogenic carbon (stockpiles, products and waste). A reservoir ranking system is proposed based on longevity, reversibility of carbon loss, and carbon density. This framework will support policy makers and researchers grappling with mitigation strategies and competing demands on agricultural land and natural ecosystems.