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Governors pledge massive cuts in deforestation

Tropical rainforest.
Tropical rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Governors from 13 states have pledged to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020 provided rich companies step forward with adequate levels of financial support.

The commitment, made Monday at a high-level convening in Rio Branco, Brazil, comes under the Governors’ Climate & Forests (GCF) Task Force, an initiative that aims to create financial incentives for keeping forests standing. The GCF involves 22 states and provinces from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, and the United States. The 19 tropical members of the GCF account for about of a quarter of the world’s remaining tropical forests.

The GCF says it expects other members to sign the Rio Branco Declaration “in coming weeks”.

GCF member states

The GCF has strongly advocated for REDD+, a greenhouse gas emissions reduction approach that hinges on paying tropical countries for protecting and better managing their forests. Deforestation and degradation account for about a tenth of global carbon emissions, making forest conservation one of the best opportunities for slowing climate change.

“Without action to reduce emissions from the deforestation of tropical forests, we are missing one of the keys to mitigating climate change,” said California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary D. Nichols, who added that the mechanism could play a role in California’s efforts to cut emissions. “We think the sector-based offset crediting approach being evaluated for jurisdiction-wide programs, like the one in Acre, is the next frontier for California’s carbon offset program.”

According to Dan Nesptad, a forest scientist who runs the Earth Innovation Institute, an 80 percent reduction in deforestation across all 19 members would amount to emissions savings of 3.8 billion tons by 2020, equivalent to the combined annual emissions of India and Russia.

As part of this effort, the GCF is also trying to link carbon finance to commodity roundtables so soy, cattle, and palm oil producers could receive direct benefits from abandoning damaging practices, like forest conversion. The initiative is further trying to bring in indigenous groups that are most at risk of being marginalized by poorly designed and implemented forest carbon programs.

“We are exploring new partnerships with sustainable supply chain initiatives and Indigenous Peoples,” said William Boyd, GCF Senior Advisor & Project Lead. “And we are launching the Rio Branco Declaration calling on our new members, our partners and international community to take aggressive commitments to reduce deforestation to mobilize substantial finance for such efforts and to ensure that benefits reach people on the ground.”

“For the 2020 commitment to become real, the GCF will need the support of companies, donors and investors, and a strong commitment to channel benefits to forest-based communities,” added Nepstad. “All of the pieces are coming together for this to happen in the coming months.”

Edwin Vasquez, leader of the Huitoto people and Coordinator General of COICA, a body that represents 390 indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon, added that such programs will only work if they involve local people who play a critical role in safeguarding forests.

“Humanity is in grave danger of the destruction of the Amazonia—the climate regulator of the planet. The 5,000 indigenous communities continue to protect the forests and preserve our cultures and the world,
as we have done for thousands of years,” he said. “We are the proprietors of 210 million hectares, covering 25% of the Amazon, which calls for an urgent proposal—‘Indigenous Amazonia for Humanity,’ a $210 million project addressing the fact that climate funds have not reached our communities.”

The GCF has pointed to Brazil as a potential model for other countries. Brazil’s deforestation rate has plunged by more than 70 percent over the past decade, while agricultural production has continued to grow.

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