Saving Ourselves By Saving The Forests

Rainforest Deforestation

According to the World Resources Institute, the razing of forests from Indonesia to Brazil is responsible for the release of five billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, which amounts to 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than all the cars and trucks in the world. The international effort to comprehensively fund forest protection as part of a new climate treaty is known as reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD). Experts estimate that an investment of about $10 to $20 billion a year will cut deforestation by half, if properly implemented. This is one of the cheapest routes to cutting global warming pollution, even ignoring the $4.5 to $5 trillion in benefits of saving the world’s tropical forests. As Papua New Guinea’s climate negotiator Kevin Conrad said last month:

We have to value forests when they are alive and standing. Presently, we only value them when they’re dead.

Saving the world’s tropical forests is a profound challenge. A funding framework controlled by corporations and international bodies raises great concerns from representatives for indigenous people, who worry that “States and Carbon Traders will take more control over our forests.” “Where countries are corrupt,” the United Nations notes, “the potential for REDD corruption is dangerous.” Realizing these fears, a $100 million scandal involving false carbon credits swept Papua New Guinea this summer.

Logging companies may turn into carbon companies,” warns conservationist Rob Dodwell, who notes that only efforts that strengthen local communities rather than reward multinational corporations have any chance of being fair, sustainable, or trustworthy. An international framework to solve deforestation cannot ignore the “links between the exploitation of natural resources and the funding of conflict and corruption.” In other words, storing carbon must not be the only reason to save the forests.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) have been leading efforts in the U.S. Senate to confront international deforestation. In February, Lugar said he hopes the United States will “exercise leadership in protecting forests and responding to the risks of climate change”:

Deforestation is a critical national security challenge because of its connections with threats from climate change and food security.

The Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), passed by the House in June, “provides funding for tropical countries to prepare and implement plans to reduce deforestation, as well as for achieving these reduction goals.” ACES establishes private and public financing from polluters to prevent deforestation, and would create an “International Climate Change Adaptation Program within the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide adaptation assistance to the most vulnerable developing countries.”

Last week, Sens. Kerry and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Senate version of ACES, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The international forestry provisions in the bill “echo those originally included in the House bill,” though it “would allow international offsets to account for a quarter of projects annually rather than the half called for in the House bill,” thus making the private offsets program more reliable, and shifting more responsibility to public deforestation projects.

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