- This week, the California Air Resources Board will meet to decide if it will adopt a set of comprehensive requirements for large-scale programs to reduce tropical deforestation emissions, known as the Tropical Forest Standard.
- Approving this Standard, with its robust social and environmental safeguards, is the most important thing California can do right now for the climate (including its own climate), for the Amazon and other tropical forests, and for the people who live in them.
- Adopting California’s Tropical Forest Standard, which doubles down on the most rigorous best practices for social and environmental safeguards, would send exactly the message that governments, farmers, and indigenous and local communities now most need to hear.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
This week, the California Air Resources Board will meet to decide if it will adopt a set of comprehensive requirements for large-scale programs to reduce tropical deforestation emissions, known as the Tropical Forest Standard. Approving this Standard, with its robust social and environmental safeguards, is the most important thing California can do right now for the climate (including its own climate), for the Amazon and other tropical forests, and for the people who live in them.
Here’s why: Tropical forests play an important role in global temperature and rainfall regimes. Deforestation exacerbates climate problems around the world, but in California in particular. Reducing emissions from deforestation and sustaining regrowth of tropical forests could provide a third or more of what’s needed to keep global temperatures below cataclysmic climate change levels.
We know it can be done. Brazil, from 2006 to 2017, reduced the average annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon by more than 60 percent relative to the previous decade (1996-2005), while increasing soy and cattle production. But rates have ticked up since. Now extreme right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to freeze or roll back recognition of indigenous territories and open them to mining and agriculture, gut environmental regulations and governance, and perhaps leave the Paris Agreement. Brazilian scientists estimate that putting his rhetoric into practice would triple current deforestation rates. Once a global environmental leader, Brazil appears to be headed the other way.
So why should California want to encourage tropical jurisdictions like Amazon states to get into California’s — or any other — emerging carbon market in the future? Because adopting California’s Tropical Forest Standard, which doubles down on the most rigorous best practices for social and environmental safeguards, would send exactly the message that governments, farmers, and indigenous and local communities now most need to hear. That message is that protected forests and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights are assets in the 21st century low-carbon economy, and deforestation and indigenous rights violations are liabilities.
The Tropical Forest Standard (TFS) is an enormously powerful signal, regardless of whether a tropical jurisdiction is currently ready to meet that standard or just starting to embark on that path. It will tell law-abiding farmers that protecting forest can generate revenue, and tell governments that they can get some help on cracking down on lawbreakers. It tells people like Bolsonaro, who still think that environmental protection and economic growth are mutually exclusive, that, actually, they can be compatible — but accessing new markets in the green economy will require respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, effective environmental governance, participatory planning, and transparency.
Indigenous peoples will stand to gain recognition and support for the critical environmental services their territories provide. In today’s Amazon, with environmental and indigenous leaders at increasing risk and looming threats to their territories, no one needs California to send the message more than indigenous and traditional peoples.
Adopting the TFS will have repercussions far beyond the Amazon and Brazil. California is a world leader on climate action, and other jurisdictions and companies that are acting on climate change will pay attention to what California does. For instance, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has committed to carbon neutral growth in international aviation starting in 2020, and is now deliberating on what kinds of emissions reductions airlines can use to meet their targets. By adopting strong standards based on California’s proposed standard, ICAO can ensure that real emission reductions are available to airlines.
This is an urgent need, since most of the proposals on the table, including the use of offsets from the largely discredited Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, are environmentally risky at best. They are often outright fake emissions reductions. California’s standard only allows reductions made across an entire jurisdiction that comply with detailed social and environmental safeguards, and are independently verified.
Reducing large-scale emissions from Amazon deforestation while increasing cattle and soy production is essentially the same thing that California is doing — making real, verifiable large-scale emissions reductions while growing the economy. Adopting the Tropical Forest Standard will set a robust standard for the world — and prevent the use of dubious emissions reductions projects that the atmosphere can ill afford.
In short, California has no greater opportunity to build on its recognized global leadership on climate change, protect at-risk tropical forest, and support forest peoples than adopting the Tropical Forest Standard. The members of the California Air Resources Board need to move the Standard forward.
Steve Schwartzman is Senior Director for Tropical Forest Policy at Environmental Defense Fund.
Christina McCain, who lives in Sacramento, California, is Director of Latin America for Environmental Defense Fund.
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