Curtailing tropical deforestation is vital to U.S. national interests as a cost-effective means to slow climate change, argues a new report issued by the bipartisan Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests. Deforestation accounts for more than a sixth of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the entire transportation sector.
The report, titled “Protecting the Climate Forests: Why reducing tropical deforestation is in America’s vital national interest,” calls for American leadership on a global effort to halve emissions from deforestation by 2020.
“It is truly time for America to launch a comprehensive response to this manageable threat,” former Rhode Island Senator and Commission co-chair Lincoln Chafee said in a statement. “Protecting the planet’s climate forests and fighting climate change can be the defining bipartisan issue of our time, but so far that bipartisanship has been largely absent. The Commission strongly urges our elected leaders to recognize the obligation we have and embrace this opportunity for collaboration. Time is running out, and our actions now will have implications for generations to come.”
“Protecting the Climate Forests” says the effort to reduce emissions from deforestation can be financed by a “well-designed” cap-and-trade program. It lays out thirteen recommendations for addressing tropical deforestation through U.S. policy, including public funding to kick start the initiative; allocating 5 percent of the value of tradable emission permits in a cap-and-trade program to new international forest conservation programs; and allowing regulated U.S. companies to ‘offset’ a substantial portion of domestic emissions through investments in tropical forests. The report estimates that investments in tropical forest conservation “will save U.S. consumers and companies $50 billion by 2020 compared to the cost of pursuing comparable domestic climate strategies alone.”
“A low-carbon economy holds tremendous potential for American job creation – but we have to get there first,” said former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. “A smart climate policy would address the near-term costs of transitioning to clean energy, and protecting tropical forests as part of that policy provides a solution. Not only can we reduce a major source of CO2 – we can also lay a solid foundation for a new economy built on energy efficiency, advanced renewable power, smart grids and beyond.”
- Halve deforestation within a decade. The United States should lead a global partnership to cut tropical deforestation in half within a decade and achieve zero net emissions from the forest sector by no later than 2030.
- Create the financial incentives for forest protection. With the right policy mechanisms, the U.S. could alter the financial incentives that lead to tropical deforestation. To unlock cost savings, the United States should invest at least $1 billion by 2012, and U.S. policy should mobilize $5 billion annually by 2020 in public funding and $9 billion annually from the private sector.
- Lead by example. The United States should adopt strong domestic climate change laws that reduce U.S. emissions 80% by 2050 and contain interim goals consistent with climate science. These domestic, timely and significant reductions are essential to galvanizing ambitious international action on tropical deforestation.
- Leverage permit revenue. 5% of the value of tradable emission permits in a cap-and-trade program should be allocated to new international forest conservation programs. This is vital to engage key nations that may not be able to attract private capital and engage nations where the deforestation threat is growing.
- Allow significant offsets. To mobilize private capital, the United States should permit regulated U.S. companies to “offset” a substantial portion of domestic emissions through investments in tropical forests.
- Maintain a large-enough strategic reserve of permits. The pool of emission permits set aside to help control the cost of a new cap-and-trade program should be large enough to manage the risk that the supply of forest carbon “offsets” may prove insufficient to stabilize prices and avoid price spikes.
- Explore U.S. “aggregator”. The United States should explore and consider establishing a financial intermediary to aggregate forest carbon offset demand and supply as a means to reduce U.S. costs and increase the climate benefits of every dollar invested in tropical forest conservation.
- Forge ambitious forest protection goals in international agreements. The United States should work to ensure that international agreements with tropical forest nations secure actions by those nations that support global emission reduction goals for forests.
- Incentivize national-scale action. As a means of encouraging nations to move swiftly to national scale actions, the U.S. should focus financial incentives to reward nations that are taking ambitious action, encourage nations to pursue large-scale policies and prevent the shifting of deforestation from one place to another.
- Ensure transparency and local participation. The United States should support tropical forest nations in their efforts to develop transparent and credible procedures for making land-use decisions, consulting local communities, and reporting on the impacts of forest conservation programs.
- Focus international forest conservation efforts on key areas. Not all forests are equally important to the United States and climate policy should reflect that reality. New forest conservation investments should be channeled to high priority areas for national security, poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.
- Guarantee responsible management. The United States should establish a coordinating council and designate a lead office or agency to oversee tropical forest conservation programs.
- Work towards full terrestrial greenhouse gas emission accounting. The United States should promote a comprehensive system of terrestrial carbon management that accounts for greenhouse gas emissions from forests, rangelands, agriculture and other major land-use categories.
The report is available at www.climateforestscommission.org.
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