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Group of distinguished ecologists ask Obama to help save rainforests

A group of distinguished ecologists have asked President Obama to push for the inclusion of tropical forests in climate policy.

In an open letter published Wednesday, dozens of U.S. ecologists called for the Obama administration to support forest conservation as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 15-18 percent of human-caused CO2 emissions, a share greater than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, and ships combined.

Are we on the brink of saving rainforests?
July 22, 2009

Until now saving rainforests seemed like an impossible mission. But the world is now warming to the idea that a proposed solution to help address climate change could offer a new way to unlock the value of forest without cutting it down.Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, members of the Surui tribe are developing a scheme that will reward them for protecting their rainforest home from encroachment by ranchers and illegal loggers. The project, initiated by the Surui themselves, will bring jobs as park guards and deliver health clinics, computers, and schools that will help youths retain traditional knowledge and cultural ties to the forest. Surprisingly, the states of California, Wisconsin and Illinois may finance the endeavor as part of their climate change mitigation programs.

The letter comes as government and business leaders are meeting in New York for a week-long U.N. climate summit. Today Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is hosting a high-level event on reducing emissions from tropical deforestation (REDD), a proposed mechanism that would pay tropical countries for protecting their forests. REDD is seen as a cost-effective means to help address climate change while generating a multitude of co-benefits, including biodiversity conservation, sustainable livelihoods for rural populations, and provision of other ecosystem services like watershed protection and erosion control.

“We are facing an ecological and a climate crisis, and we have the knowledge to act wisely, but we need decisive global political leadership to get the job done,” said Steve Hamburg Chief Scientist of Environmental Defense Fund in a statement. “We need global climate policies to conserve tropical biodiversity.”

“The handwriting on the wall says we need the living planet — especially forests — to address climate change,” added Tom Lovejoy of the Heinz Center.

The text of the letter appears below.

The Letter

Dear President Obama:

We commend your leadership at the 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy as well as the
July 2009 Major Economies Forum, in particular on their recognition of the scientific
consensus that the global average temperature should not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial
levels. This threshold was also identified in the American Clean Energy Security Act,
H.R. 2454, as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. To realize the goal of
limiting warming below this critical threshold, immediate and strong action is needed to
reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions. The G-8 declaration calls for developed
countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% or more of 1990 levels by 2050, a
target that should be matched with ambitious nearer-term emission reductions for
industrialized nations. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation
(REDD) can be a critical piece of this near-term action.

We write specifically to urge you to make the conservation and restoration of native
forests in the tropics and sub-tropics a central pillar of U.S. climate policy. Reducing
Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in tropical forest countries, coupled with
aggressive action in our own country to reduce emissions, can play a crucial role in
limiting warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and in helping nations
adapt to the impacts of some unavoidable climate change.

Further, compensating forest peoples for protecting forests can buttress forests’ role in the
survival of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. REDD also offers developing
countries the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in rising to the global climate change
challenge, set forth in the G-8 declaration, of reducing global emissions goal of achieving
at least a 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050. REDD may also provide a model
for restoration of other ecosystem types, in which reversing degradation could benefit
biodiversity and improve carbon sequestration capacity in other regions.

We commend you on the 2009 G-8 declaration’s commitment to “support the
development of positive incentives in particular for developing countries to promote
emission reductions through actions to reduce deforestation and forest degradation,” and
to “consider the inclusion of financial mechanisms within the future global agreement on
climate change.” REDD has a significant role to play in making this commitment a
reality. It requires no new technology, but rather policies that acknowledge the value of
forests and by incentivizing their preservation.

A wide range of policy tools is available to achieve this goal. The benefits are many — for
the climate, for the world’s biodiversity, for our shared future. We suggest the following
as priority actions:

We urge you to make reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,
conservation and restoration of native forests, a centerpiece of U.S. climate policy.


David Ackerly

Associate Professor of Plant Ecology and Evolution

Department of Integrative Biology

University of California, Berkeley

Fred Adler

Professor of Biology and Mathematics

Department of Mathematics

University of Utah

Peter Ashton

Charles Bullard Research Professor of Forestry

Harvard University

Walter Carson

Associate Professor

University of Pittsburgh

William L. Chameides

Dean and Nicholas Professor of the Environment

Nicholas School of the Environment

Duke University

F. Stuart Chapin, III

Professor of Ecology

Institute of Arctic Biology

University of Alaska

Robin Chazdon

Professor of Tropical Forest Ecology

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of Connecticut

Deborah Clark

Research Professor

Department of Biology

University of Missouri, St. Louis

Phyllis Coley

Distinguished Professor

Department of Biology

University of Utah

Gretchen Daily

Bing Professor of Environmental Science

Department of Biological Sciences

Stanford University

M. Denise Dearing


Department of Biology

University of Utah

Ruth DeFries

Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development

Department of Ecology

Columbia University

Christopher P. Dunn


Lyon Arboretum

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Paul Fine

Professor of Plant Ecology and Evolution

Department of Integrated Biology

University of California, Berkeley

Peter Frumhoff

Director of Science & Policy

Union of Concerned Scientists

Cambridge, MA

Steven Hamburg

Chief Scientist

Environmental Defense Fund

New York, NY

Henry Howe

Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Biological Sciences

University of Illinois at Chicago

Michael Kaspari

Presidential Associate Professor of Zoology

Department of Zoology

University of Oklahoma

Thomas A. Kursar

Associate Professor

Department of Biology

University of Utah

William Laurance

Senior Staff Scientist

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Panama City, Panama

Gene Likens

Distinguished Senior Scientist

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Milbrook, NY

John Longino

Professor of Neotropical Myrmecology

Evergreen State College

Thomas E. Lovejoy

Biodiversity Chair

The Heinz Center

Washington, D.C.

Margaret Lowman

Director of Environmental Initiatives,

Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies

New College of Florida

Pamela Matson

Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies,

Dean, School of Earth Sciences

Stanford University

Nalini Nadkarni

Professor of Environmental Studies

Evergreen State College

Gretchen North

Professor of Plant Biology and Ecology

Department of Biology

Occidental College

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