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Implications of the American Clean Energy and Security Act for conservation

Mark Tercek (Photo by Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy)

Following today’s passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) by the House of Representatives, The Nature Conservancy released a set of questions and answers with Mark Tercek, its chairman and CEO.

In a statement prefacing the responses, TNC said it was “particularly pleased that the bill creates a framework for strong conservation-oriented solutions to climate change in several important ways”:

  • First, it adopts emission reduction targets that begin to make a credible contribution by the U.S. to a global effort.
  • Second, the bill establishes a policy and funding basis for protecting forests and other natural systems at the scale that is needed to significantly reduce emissions from deforestation, which is a major contributor to global warming.

  • Third, the House bill creates a well-designed science framework to begin to protect the natural systems on which people, plants and animals depend for their existence – natural systems that will be seriously threatened by climate changes.

  • Fourth, through its conservation and energy efficiency provisions, the bill will encourage needed investments that can help to get our economy onto a more productive and sustainable footing.

    The bill must next pass the Senate to become law.

    Q&A with Mark Tercek on the American Clean Energy and Security Act

    What does it mean that the House of Representatives has passed a climate bill today?

    Mark Tercek: The passage of the bill by the House today is a major landmark that signals to the world that the United States is serious about controlling emissions and addressing the challenge of climate change. It has been over two decades since this issue was first called to the attention of the Congress, and today we have passed a bill. It is momentous.

    We are at a pivotal moment in history. We have an administration that has made climate change a top priority. We have Congressional leaders who are moving forward with climate protection and clean energy bills. And internationally, world leaders are working to reach a new global climate deal in December.

    One of the great issues that we wrestle with at The Nature Conservancy is that the services ecosystems provide are often not valued or accounted for in the financial markets. This bill changes that dynamic by placing a value on the critical role forests and other natural areas play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also helping to deal with other climate change impacts..

    That’s a seismic shift for conservation, but putting a price on carbon will also send a signal to private companies who are waiting to invest in carbon sequestration and clean energy technologies that they can get started with confidence that their investments will make sense in the long run.

    We cannot let this opportunity pass, and House passage is a major step toward putting it in place. This is why the Conservancy has been actively supporting passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House.

    What does the bill mean for conservation on the ground?

    Mark Tercek: The Conservancy is extremely pleased at the bill’s policy commitment to – and support for — protecting forests in the United States and around the world. Nearly 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses come from the destruction of forests – more than from all the planes, trains and automobiles on Earth. This bill would give the global community its first and perhaps only hope to reduce deforestation dramatically over the next decade. If other nations follow the path laid out in this bill, by 2020 we could reduce deforestation by half.

    Forest protection is one of the most cost-effective strategies we have to fight climate change and can greatly reduce the immediate cost of compliance to a cap-and-trade program. Allowing businesses to invest in forest carbon projects will also generate the financial incentives developing countries need to protect their threatened forests, lower their carbon emissions and join the global fight against climate change.

    We also are pleased to see funding and policy support in the bill for protecting the country’s natural resources to ensure they are strong enough to adapt to and overcome the impacts of climate change.

    And let’s not forget the basic point that we need to start reducing our emissions if we are going to get global warming under control and avoid some of the worst impacts. That’s a big part of what the bill does.

    So we are grateful to the House for taking this important step forward now so we can continue to move ahead and protect the country’s communities and economy from climate change.

    The Conservancy has taken an active role in supporting and informing this legislation. This seems unusual for us. Why have we been active?

    Mark Tercek: Climate change is one of the greatest threats to healthy ecosystems and the people that rely on them for survival. In short, climate change threatens the entire mission of the Conservancy to protect habitat for the diversity of life on Earth.

    As the country’s largest conservation organization, we are compelled to do what we can to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by developing strategies to reduce emissions, and to plan for and undertake efforts to protect nature and human communities threatened by climate change.

    We simply cannot deal with climate change without strong sensible policies. With more than 50 years of on-the-ground experience and with more than 700 staff scientists, The Nature Conservancy is in a unique position to translate conservation success into national and international climate policy solutions, and to educate people about what climate means for the natural systems on which they depend.

    We also have a long history of building consensus, a strategy we continue to use throughout this climate policy debate. The Conservancy is a member of USCAP, a coalition of more than 30-major corporations and leading environmental organizations working to combat climate change. The fact that such a diverse coalition of energy, manufacturing, business and environmental groups could agree on climate change policy demonstrates the urgency of this issue and the need to act now.

    How will this bill help craft a global climate solution, through the international negotiations in Copenhagen this December?

    Mark Tercek: As one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gasses the U.S. must be part of a global solution. International negotiations over the past year have been slow but steady. The United States now has the opportunity help unlock these talks. The House action today will send a signal around the world that the U.S. is engaged. The Senate must now build on the House’s work and move swiftly to pass strong climate legislation so the United States can have the contours of a comprehensive climate program established by Copenhagen.

    Is there anything you would improve in the bill?

    Mark Tercek: The House bill is an important step forward, but there are several things that would make the bill better:

    There ought to be more money, in predictable dedicated amounts, for helping natural systems withstand the impacts of warming temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and rising sea levels. While we are appreciative that the House has included funding and sound planning language for this purpose, it is our hope that funding can be significantly increased in the Senate. Healthy natural systems are a cost-effective approach to dealing with many impacts of climate change.

    We also have concerns about some rather detailed provisions having to do with the use of biomass from forests as sources of fuel for transportation and power generation. While in moderation this may be a good thing for sustaining private forest land stewardship, there should be protections to prevent the overharvesting of biologically important native forests for such purposes.

    As I mentioned, if it’s possible, we’d like to see the 2020 emissions targets tightened up. We have a great track record of responding to challenges with innovation here in this country, and I think people will be surprised how quickly we can start bringing down the emissions – they are already down about 3 percent over the last three years.

    And finally, we think the outlines of the international forest carbon proposal in the House bill are excellent. But it will be important to make sure that the details match up with the discussions that are going on internationally and the best thinking, which is still evolving, about what is needed to make such a program work successfully. And some refinements will be needed on the domestic side as well.

    Global warming bill passes the House

    (06/26/2009) The U.S. House of Representatives passed the country’s first climate change legislation 219-212 on Friday. The vote was highly partisan with Democrats generally supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Republicans mostly opposing it.

    Economic crisis hits conservation but may offer opportunities, says TNC president

    (03/03/2009) In 2008 The Nature Conservancy (TNC) surprised the conservation world when it selected Mark Tercek, an investment banker from Goldman Sachs, as its new president and CEO. But for people who have worked with Tercek, the move made strategic sense – Tercek was a leading figure in the Goldman’s effort to improve its environmental record. In 2005 Tercek was appointed to head up the firm’s Environmental Strategy Group, which develops and implements its environmental policy, and its Center for Environmental Markets, an initiative that examines market-based solutions to environmental challenges. In that role Tercek worked with pioneers in ecosystem services science, including Gretchen Daily of Stanford University; John Holdren, the former director of the Woods Hole Research Center and currently President Obama’s chief scientific adviser; and Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at TNC.

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