Why Land-Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) matter and why we highlight some countries

The main components of the CAT rating system assess emissions excluding those from LULUCF and forestry. Emissions and removals from forestry are of very different nature, they are very volatile from one year to the next and the removals during biomass growth can be reversed into emissions through human activity, natural factors, and increasingly through the effects of climate change on forests and soil carbon via more extreme and frequent heat waves, drought and wildfire. We consider it is more important to make clear what’s happening with emissions from fossil fuels and industry rather than mixing targets with sinks through land use and forestry.

However, LULUCF is both a major source and sink of emissions on the global level, and a major share of emissions for some individual countries. Reducing LULUCF emissions and enhancing removals will be crucial for limiting warming to 1.5°C.

LULUCF can also play a major role in how emissions reductions are counted toward meeting a country’s climate target and has been used by governments to obscure a lack of progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions.

We therefore highlight those countries for which emissions sources and sinks from LULUCF are high compared with emissions from fossil sources. We do this to indicate where policies for limiting emissions and preserving sinks are especially important.

A more detailed and nuanced analysis and rating of LULUCF emissions will be developed in the coming years and more explanation of how we treat LULUCF, and why it matters, can be found here.

Identifying countries to flag

The CAT flags LULUCF as an issue only for countries where LULUCF results in LULUCF emissions that are higher than 20% of other GHG emissions or removals that are larger than 20% of other GHG emissions.

We do this by:

  • Determining the proportion of LULUCF emissions or removals as compared to emissions from all other sources through time.
  • Flagging any country where the average share of net emissions and removals over the last 20 years is >20%.
  • Flagging any country where the maximum share of emissions or removals in the last 30 years is >30%.

Finally, we also flag countries where both LULUCF emissions and removals are high but the two cancel each other out when assessing net emissions. Flagging these countries is important because it shows the potential for either to be a major contributor to overall emissions and highlights the significance of land-based emissions in that country.

Data and method in detail

Our primary analysis and results are based on the same data that the CAT uses for the country analysis. Country reported data – either to the UNFCCC or in national documents – is prioritised. We do this to be consistent across the different elements of CAT analyses.

As LULUCF data is highly uncertain, we also tested our approach using other datasets, including UNFCCC data only (only that available on the GHG interface of the UNFCCC website) and data reported by the FAO. The UNFCCC and CAT data commonly yield the same, or very similar, results because the CAT commonly uses UNFCCC data where available. However, in some cases the CAT uses alternate national sources, especially when data reported to the UNFCCC is sparse.

Differences between FAO and UNFCCC reported data are due to differences in the emissions accounting approaches used for each dataset and the way in which land uses are defined (Federici et al., 2015). These different approaches may then highlight different aspects of land-use activities.

We pay particular attention to countries where “net” LULUCF emissions are low but are the result of high emissions and significant sinks balance each other out. Where data is available (all Annex I countries), we check LULUCF sources and sinks in addition to the net emissions. Based on this, we may flag additional countries and potentially as both a source and a sink. Canada is one example that has both significant emissions and sinks from LULUCF that mostly balance each other out.


  • Federici, S., Tubiello, F. N., Salvatore, M., Jacobs, H., & Schmidhuber, J. (2015). New estimates of CO2 forest emissions and removals: 1990–2015. Forest Ecology and Management, 352, 89–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2015.04.022

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