Time to Solve the Loss of the World’s Tropical Forests…some tools to get us there

I've been spending a lot of my time recently trying to get a strong structure for addressing the loss of the world's tropical rainforests as a part of the US climate bill.  This took two parallel tracks -- developing a strong coalition for supporting specific provisions and trying to get good pieces in the climate bill that was working its way through the House Energy and Commerce committee (as NRDC discussed here).

Before digging into the details of how these efforts played out, it is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves why addressing deforestation is so critical.  Here are a couple of reasons (as I've discussed here, here, and here):

  • Each year the world loses an area of tropical forests approximately the size of New York State to deforestation;
  • Untold amounts of biodiversity are lost in the process, not to mention the livelihoods of many people; and
  • Destruction of tropical forests is responsible for roughly 20% of the world's global warming pollution -- more than all cars, trucks, planes, and ships combined.

So how did those two parallel efforts on deforestation play out?

NRDC joined a strong coalition of environmental groups and businesses to push for a set of incentives to help reduce the loss of the world's tropical rainforests as a part of the US climate bill.  This coalition was made up of: American Electric Power, Conservation, International, Duke Energy, El Paso Corporation, Environmental Defense Fund, Marriott International, Mercy Corps, National Wildlife Federation, PG&E Corporation, Sierra Club, Starbucks Coffee Company, The Nature Conservancy, The Walt Disney Company, Union of Concerned Scientists, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Woods Hole Research Center.  A pretty impressive group!

Frances Beinecke, our President, and Michael Morris the head of American Electric Power were on a press call on behalf of this group to launch a set of principles to provide incentives to reduce deforestation emissions (see here for one story from the press call).  These principles (available here) contain a number of key elements, but boil down to two key elements:

  • Setting aside 5% of the allowance value for near-term emissions reductions, market-readiness, capacity building, and leakage prevention; and
  • Carbon offsets for deforestation reductions that meet high standards of environmental accountability, with a transition from subnational to national crediting under certain conditions.

And, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed out the House Energy and Commerce Committee largely recognizes and implements the provisions of this new coalition.  The bill sets aside 5% of allowances from the cap-and-trade system for deforestation reduction activities in tropical countries and contains provisions for high-quality forest carbon offsets at several scales: national, state and province, and program and project.  The largest emitting countries are only eligible at the outset to generate credits for national level deforestation reductions or only for states and provinces that reduce their total deforestation emissions during a transition period (5 years).  For a transition period (5 years with the possibility of receiving an extension under certain conditions), small emitting countries are eligible to generate credits for program or project level reductions (e.g., subnational).

As a recent New York Times Editorial put it:

"...with the rain forests shrinking and the planet warming up, it's crucial to get the right incentives in place - first as part of broad climate change legislation in the United States, then as part of a new global treaty that the world's nations hope to negotiate in the fall."

So it was a good couple of weeks for the world's tropical forests -- a strong new coalition has emerged and the House bill that just passed out of committee has some strong incentives.  Of course, simply creating the mechanisms isn't sufficient as everyone will need to work really hard to ensure that these incentives achieve tangible reductions in the global warming pollution from deforestation.

So no time to take a rest...we aren't quite there yet, but we are getting closer to have some of the tools necessary to solve the loss of the World's tropical rainforests.