US states sign tropical forest pledge

Posted: 19 November 2008

The states of California, Illinois, and Wisconsin and six states in Brazil and Indonesia agreed today to work together on new programmes for protecting and restoring tropical forests as an essential but so far untapped strategy to combat climate change.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the governors of Illinois and Wisconcin,and the governors or emissaries of Amazonas, Pará, Mato Grosso and Amapá states in Brazil and Papua and Aceh provinces in Indonesia, represents a big leap forward for the concept of carbon emitters in industrialised societies paying for the service provided by tropical forests in absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo © Google Earth
While much climate change debate focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy production and fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the burning and clearing of tropical forests causes about 20 per cent of total CO2 emissions - more than all the world's cars, trucks and airplanes combined. Tropical forests also are home to more than half of all species on Earth, and provide essential resources and services for people including fresh water, food, medicines, pollination, soil regeneration and many others. However, burning and clearing of tropical forests - driven mostly by demand in industrialised nations for timber, palm oil, beef and other commodities - destroys an area the size of England every year. Scientists warn that failure to halt deforestation means global temperatures will rise to dangerous levels no matter what other steps are taken to combat climate change. "When a tropical forest is destroyed, it hurts everyone, no matter where they live," said Peter Seligmann, the chairman and CEO of Conservation International (CI). "The memorandum between California and these Brazilian and Indonesian states and provinces containing some of the world's last remaining intact tropical forests is a welcome and necessary step. California's leadership in this area will help stabilise the Earth's climate by providing effective incentives to conserve these threatened tropical ecosystems that are so critical for supporting the livelihoods of forest-dwelling communities and indigenous peoples". The agreement followis the Governors' Global Climate Summit convened from November 18-19. The summit included governors from other US states as well as states or provinces from around the world, including Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, China, India, Mexico, the European Union and other nations. The MOU signals the Schwarzenegger's intention to be active in combating climate change in the evolving US federal climate legislation and the conclusion of UN negotiations in Copenhagen, says Conservation Internatioanl. It recognises the need for climate change actions at the state level "as a means to furthering national and international efforts," as well as the importance of "reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the forest sector by preserving standing forests and sequestering additional carbon through the restoration and reforestation of degraded lands and forest and improved forest management practices."

Carbon offsets UN-led negotiations on a global climate change treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 are exploring similar mechanisms but have yet to agree on such measures, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). The memorandum pledged that verifiable emissions reductions from REDD initiatives in the Brazilian and Indonesian states could be considered eligible carbon offsets under California's Global Warming Solutions Act. "This would open the door for carbon credits derived from protecting forests to be used for compliance purposes under California's climate legislation," said Toby Janson-Smith, the senior director for forest carbon markets in CI's Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. "International negotiators will see that it can be done in a credible and robust way, and that reducing emissions from deforestation should finally be included in the global climate change framework." The UN-led negotiations in Bali, last year, agreed t`o consider forest protection as a possible strategy for mitigating climate change in the agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol. CI and partner organizations have launched a series of initiatives to demonstrate how the concept would work on the ground, and also worked with developing countries to help them participate in the international talks and new climate change financing mechanisms, as well as the global carbon fund created under Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol allows only limited trading in emissions credits for newly planted or replanted forests, and it provides no credit for preserving intact forests. As a result, most of the current financing for forest conservation in the carbon market results from voluntary initiatives outside of the Kyoto Protocol.

Source: Conservation International