Stock changes or fluxes? Resolving terminological confusion in the debate on land-use change and forestry

A. Cowie (Corresponding Author), Kim Pingoud, B. Schlamadinger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


This article collates definitions of some key terms commonly used in greenhouse gas reporting and accounting for the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector, and highlights areas of ambiguity and divergent interpretations of key concepts. It uses the example of harvested wood products to demonstrate the impact of different interpretations. The objective is to facilitate clear communication amongst negotiators and practitioners in relation to the terms emissions, removals, sources and sinks. Confusion and misunderstandings that have arisen in the past are rooted in diverging interpretations of the terms ‘emissions’ and ‘removals’ in the context of land use and wood products. One interpretation sees emissions and removals to be approximated by a change in carbon stocks in a number of selected carbon pools that may include or exclude harvested wood products. Another interpretation views emissions and removals as gross fluxes between the atmosphere and the land/wood products system. The various alternative approaches that have been proposed for reporting for harvested wood products are applicable to one or the other of these interpretations: the stock-change and production approaches, focused on stock changes, are applicable to the first interpretation; whereas the atmospheric flow and simple decay approaches focus on fluxes, as in the second interpretation. Whether emissions/removals are approximated by stock change or from gross fluxes, it is critical that a consistent approach is applied across the whole LULUCF/AFOLU sector. Approaches based on stock change are recommended over those based on fluxes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-179
JournalClimate Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


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