There is financial value in the carbon inside the world’s forests, and some countries announced on Wednesday a new commitment to investing in that value to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway said Wednesday they would allocate $280 million altogether to a new initiative aimed at slowing deforestation. While there remained confusion and disagreement over how the U.N. disperses forest funding, this fund would be administered by the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund and help implement REDD+, which is an international effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. REDD provides financial incentives to developing countries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, while REDD+ expands that to a promotion of conservation and sustainable forest management in general.
The U.S. committed $25 million, Norway up to $135 million, and the U.K. $120 million in the first year of the initiative, but additional partners are expected to join them. Secretary of State John Kerry told representatives gathered in Warsaw via video that the he was “proud to announce today that the United States is a founding partner in the new Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes.”
Working with Congress and together with the United Kingdom and Norway, we plan to provide more than $250 million to launch the initiative and this will be one of the single largest investments that the U.S. Department of State has made in forests.
The American contribution will be through the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 initiative. This public-private alliance is devoted to reducing deforestation, mainly through conservation planning assistance, sharing best practices of farming that promotes sustainable harvesting, and improving how deforestation is monitored.
Deforestation is responsible for between one-fifth and one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions every year, and each year, an area about the size of Costa Rica is lost — 13 million square hectares. The trend of aforestation or deforestation depends on the country. Forest losses in Brazil, for example, jumped 28 percent from 2012 to 2013, after four years of declining forest-clearing in a row. Indonesia’s deforestation rate doubled over the course of the last decade, however, with the island of Sumatra seeing serious tree loss.
A study published last week in the journal Science used Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey to track gains and losses in global forest cover from 2000 to 2012. This is the first study to examine gains and losses in such detail, with one pixel representing a 30 meter square of land — essentially a baseball diamond. 888,034 square miles were lost during the period, three times more than the gains.
Take a look around this Google Earth Engine map to see losses (in red), gains (in blue), and areas of loss and gain (in purple).
Note the purple swathes across the Southeastern U.S., where tree farming is prevalent. But mainly, the green areas of the world are receding, which is bad if the world is going to take advantage of the cheapest and most beneficial carbon sinks on the planet. Half of a tree’s dry weight is carbon.