June 18, 2010
"Farms Here, Forests There: Tropical Deforestation and U.S. Competitiveness in Agriculture and Timber" , authored by Shari Friedman, makes a case that "ending deforestation through incentives in United States and international climate action would boost U.S. agricultural revenue by an estimated $190 to $270 billion between 2012 and 2030." It cites $141 to $221 billion in direct benefits from increased production of timber, grain, and meat, and $49 billion in savings in the cost of complying with climate legislation.
Sumatran rainforest in May 2010. Photo by Rhett Butler.
"America is losing many thousands of jobs because of illegal logging and tropical deforestation at a time when instead we should be growing jobs here at home," added Keith Romig, Strategic Issues Representative for the United Steelworkers. "Any climate policy that aims to protect American jobs also has to protect tropical forests."
The report is part of an effort to build support in U.S. Congress to include policies to reduce tropical deforestation by half by 2020 and end it completely by 2030 in climate legislation. As enticement, the report includes a state-by-state breakdown of the potential increased revenues from an "avoided deforestation" plan. Oilseed-producing states—including Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and the Dakotas—could see revenues swell by $18-40 billion if deforestation is halted, while the American beef industry could see a gain of $53-68 billion, with large increases in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, according to the report. Meanwhile domestic timber producers could see revenues climb by $36-60 billion. Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina would see the biggest gains.
Winning support from the agricultural sector would greatly strengthen the chances of climate legislation passing the House and Senate. The current Senate bill, drafted last month by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, contains only limited provisions for forest conservation, but there is room to expand these via the appropriations process.
With its U.S. focus, including language on carbon offsets and domestic substitutes for tropical agricultural commodities like palm oil, the report promises to raise hackles overseas. Emerging agricultural superpowers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia generally object to international complaints over deforestation and what they perceive as non-tariff barriers to trade. Still some savvy producers in these countries are closely monitoring REDD, a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism that could pay them to conserve forests. By some estimates, compensation for leaving trees standing could prove more lucrative than cutting them down for farmland, potentially benefiting farmers and the environment provided proper safeguards are in place.
NOTE: The details of REDD remain controversial. For a more nuanced look than presented here, see the REDD news feed