In a letter to the authors of the Senate energy and climate bill, some of the most powerful companies and organizations in U.S. agriculture and forestry joined with environmentalists and industry to insist on inclusion of strong incentives for forests and farms in any climate legislation. Guest blogger Glenn Hurowitz, Washington Director of Avoided Deforestation Partners, has the story along with a good video on deforestation.
The letter was signed by groups including the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Alliance of Forest Owners (representing owners and managers of more than 75 million acres of privately owned forestland such as Plum Creek and Weyerhaeuser), the National Farmers Union, Dominion, and the Sierra Club (full letter and signatories here, article in The Hill here).
Here’s the key quote:
By providing an affordable means to address climate change, public and private incentives (such as offsets) for forests and farms can help Americans save money while leading the way to a low carbon economy.
The letter represents a rejection by American business and environmentalists of “energy-only” approaches to climate change, such as the Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s pollution heavy bill and the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act.
With good reason. In an admittedly provocatively titled piece in The Hill, “The Energy Fetish,” I teamed up with former American Forest and Paper Association executive vice president Stephen Lovett to analyze some of the problems with energy-only approaches to climate change:
Despite all the attention deservedly given to power plants and automobiles’ contribution to climate change, only about half of global greenhouse gas emissions actually come from energy. Approximately seventeen percent come from the clearing and burning of tropical rainforests and another fifteen percent comes from agriculture (the rest comes primarily from dangerous chemicals used in refrigeration)…
We can already see the potential of regrowing forests and restoring lands to reduce pollution: by breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen, America’s forests and sustainably managed croplands already suck up more than one tenth of the emissions produced by industry and autos”¦.
According to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, almost half the near-term potential for reducing pollution comes from forestry and agriculture.
And while we’re making that clean energy shift, investing in the land will create a bigger jobs bang for the buck than any other sector. New research from economists Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Robert Pollin at the University of Massachusetts show that every million dollars of investment in forest and stream restoration and sustainable land management produces 39 jobs. That’s 74 percent more than the second-best jobs producer and six times the jobs of investments in conventional energy sources.
In the letter, many of these groups recognized for the first time the major benefits to their industries of protecting tropical rainforests. Because tropical forest conservation is one of the most affordable ways to reduce climate pollution – costing around $5 per ton compared to double or quadruple that for many domestic emissions reductions, it keeps climate legislation affordable, allowing stronger pollution reduction targets than would otherwise be possible.
The groups also recognized another benefit to the United States: reducing illegal, unfair, and environmentally damaging competition from rainforest logging and cattle, soy, palm oil, and other crops grown on deforested land. Until we pass climate legislation and value trees for the carbon they store, outlaw ranchers, loggers, and plantation operators will continue to tear down the rainforest, terrorize and kill forest dwellers (and the occasional American nun), and export commodities that directly undercut more sustainable and responsible U.S. producers.
Two of the letter signatories, Avoided Deforestation Partners and the Ohio Corn Growers Association, launched a significant ad campaign today to highlight these impacts. You can read in more depth about that issue here, or watch a video that’s part of the ad campaign below.
These groups are now working together to support the legislation’s measures to set aside five percent of allowances for tropical forest conservation. This is crucial to maintain the legislation’s affordability and targets.
Here’s why: climate scuttlebutt indicates that the KGL legislation will include fairly robust offsets, some of which would need to come from tropical forest conservation.
But it will be impossible for rainforest nations to deliver those affordable offsets unless they can meet the high standards for offsets by reducing deforestation on a national level – something which they will require the set-aside to do.
In addition, it will be very difficult for the United States to persuade other countries to adopt ambitious climate targets without the five percent set-aside. Much of the funding goes to help governments reduce illegal logging and conserve forests in unstable countries like Democratic Republic of Congo that may find it difficult to attract private investment, as well as to protect major carbon stores like peatlands and wetlands.
These emissions reductions have pretty outstanding impact: the House-passed legislation, for instance, relies on the set-aside to bring the legislation’s emission reductions up to 17-23 percent below 1990 levels, compared to 17 percent below 2005 levels without it. World Resources Institute has a great analysis of how these “additional reductions” dramatically improve climate legislation.
Not only are will those additional reductions deliver direct benefits, they’re also essential to getting other countries to adopt targets in line with or exceeding those of the United States – and a key part of including forests and farms.
- Stick a fork in the energy-only bill: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) slams push for a “half-assed energy bill”