Tackling Climate Change by Saving Forests

My guest blogger, Glenn Hurowitz, is Washington Director of Avoided Deforestation Partners.  This post is excerpted from a piece first published here.

One of the little-known ingredients of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454 is a breakthrough agreement on ending tropical deforestation, which is responsible for about 20 percent of global climate pollution””more than the emissions from all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined.

The Waxman-Markey legislation contains two primary tropical forest provisions that, combined, help meet the bill’s goals for reducing pollution in a way cost effective enough to win the support it needs to pass. First, it sets aside 5 percent of the bill’s pollution allowances to fund tropical forest conservation. Second, it allows emitters to get credit for investing in tropical forest conservation subject to a set of strict requirements.

Set-aside funding. The revenue from the 5 percent set aside can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Protecting forests, wetlands, and carbon-rich peatlands that might not be protected through private efforts.
  • Preparing countries and communities to participate in international private conservation efforts by helping them develop the resources and expertise to figure out how much forests they have, how much carbon is stored in those forests, the rate of deforestation, and the impact of conservation activities. These efforts would, most importantly, produce a national baseline against which to measure reductions in deforestation and a national plan to help these countries achieve their forest conservation and climate protection goals.
  • Pilot projects aimed at reversing deforestation, especially at the state and province levels.
  • Improved governance and enhanced enforcement aimed at reducing illegal logging and other forms of deforestation and helping indigenous and other forest-dependent people.

Private investment. The bill also includes powerful incentives for private investment in forest conservation and subject to strict requirements. The bill allows emitters to offset a portion of their pollution by investing in forest conservation. However, they can only get credit after reductions in deforestation have already occurred and, in major emitting countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, only if those reductions come as part of a national plan that ensures a countrywide reduction in deforestation, not just a local one. Conservation projects run through states and provinces will also be eligible””if the state or province would be considered a major emitting country in its own right and if it has a plan for reducing deforestation statewide.

Finally, for the program’s first years, small emitting countries and the least-developed nations will be eligible to participate while they build their national plans for reducing deforestation. This ensures that conservation can start immediately and we can avoid a deforestation race to the bottom. No conservation will receive credit unless biodiversity is protected, and indigenous and forest-dependent people benefit from it.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. recently conducted a greenhouse gas abatement cost curve analysis and found that tropical forest conservation has the potential to reduce carbon pollution at just a fraction of the cost of other essential strategies such as installing clean energy or improving agricultural practices. In the words of a recent New York Times editorial, “the economics make sense.”

The private investment incentives helped win the support of power producers such as American Electric Power and Duke Energy by lowering the costs of the bill. They also helped ensure that the 5 percent set aside would remain as part of the bill, even as other environmental spending was cut””the utilities and other companies had previously agreed through a negotiating process convened by Avoided Deforestation Partners to support these government funding provisions if the private investment provisions were also included.

The Waxman-Markey bill’s forest provisions provide a model for action by other countries. If the bill passes and other industrialized countries adopt similar tropical forest conservation measures, deforestation could be ended or even reversed””a huge global achievement that, until Waxman-Markey, seemed tragically out of reach.

7 Responses to Tackling Climate Change by Saving Forests

  1. Uosdwis says:

    The only way deforestation stops is if Americans dramatically cut back on burgers. Ain’t gonna happen until there is absolutely no choice.

  2. Leif says:

    I would modify that statement a bit. Economies need to cut back on consumption. Remove “planned obsolescence” from the business concept. Factor in the environmental consequences to the GDP.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    So glad to see forest protection getting serious attention – here at CP, in the ACES bill, in the McKinsey study; kudos to Joe and to Mr. Hurowitz.

    Like any form of conservation, preserving forests is simultaneously easy and hard. After all, saving a forest must be done in perpetuity — it only has to be clearcut once. And there are many short term incentives to cut down a tree.

  4. ecostew says:

    We must come to grips with public/private forests/woodlands managed under intensifying AGW as crops (like corn); and forests managed for other values e.g., wilderness, old growth, public forests with multiple uses (including water yield), etc.

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    Wow… listening to the debate during final passage of Waxman-Markey may have fried more of our brain cells than we first thought. Let’s hope it’s temporary, because this sort of strategy logic sounds perilously close to semantically splitting hairs on the dog that bit ya.

    For starters, *every* living thing on the planet is a “consumer”. Plants consume water, CO2 and trace elements from the soil to grow. When they die they give them back. Microbes consume, well, whatever it is they eat, etc. The difference between humans and most other consuming creatures is that we have used our technology to divorce ourselves from that part of the natural consumption/growth/life cycle where we ourselves are eventually consumed and so finally give back to the ecosystem what we have taken out of it during the course of keeping ourselves alive and growing and reproducing.

    The same use of technology allows each individual member of our species to consume a whole lot more resources than they possibly could have done if we had stayed in our ‘natural’ non-technological state. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that if if we had stayed in that non-technological state, that we would not *still* be consumers. We would be. We would just not be such dangerous consumers from a planetary viewpoint.

    It is the runaway application of technology that has allowed us to consume in the unhealthy fashion to which we have become accustomed. It is what has made us a danger to the planet’s life support system. But since no one really wants to give up the benefits of our technology, we have to quickly learn how to re-integrate it and ourselves with that life-support system so that our civilization can continue to exist in something like its current state. If we don’t pull that off, then yes, we will almost certainly end up with the Mad Max scenario.

    In addition to all the technological things we are now trying to formalize into global policy to pull off that reintegration (with efforts like Waxman-Markey and the coming Copenhagen summit), there is are the dirty words we are told we must not utter in polite company — controlling population growth — to contend with if we are to be successful and achieve reintegration in time to avert global catastrophe.

    So far, we have been using technology to run ahead of the population growth curve, but with factors like peak oil, peak food, peak fresh water and 500 ppm CO2 concentrations looming on the near horizon, it is unlikely we will be able to continue to do that as effectively as we have in the past 30 years (when we consumed and grew ourselves from 3 billion to 7 billion people).

    If you remove the word “consumer” from the dialog you just end up obscuring the true nature of the problem. You will be attempting to divorce the method from the madness in people’s minds, when what we really need to do is thoroughly analyze the method and then get everyone to commit to dramatically changing it.

  6. Jim Beacon says:

    oops… the above comment is supposed to be in a different article, the one about not calling Americans “consumers”. My bad. Please delete it.

  7. J4zonian says:

    Well, it’s like the question ‘What do you call a thousand oil and coal climate lobbyists floating face down in the Pacific subtropical convergence zone (the big plastic island)? ‘

    A good start.

    We need to do this; we need to do better than this. I suggest trying for a 10% set aside in the Senate version–obviously, twice as good, and with the traditional Christian value of being tithing.

    We also desperately need to increase the organic matter in soil. Increasing it by 1.6% over all the arable land in the world would sequester carbon equivalent to all that the industrial revolution has produced, according to Allan Yeoman. And switching to perennial bunch grasses for crops and grazing would help sequester it deeper and more sustainably.