President Bush has proclaimed he would convince the world that the United States is a leader in finding solutions to climate change
. Ironically, he said that in a recent speech at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), while at the same time his Administration is slashing USAID support to reducing tropical forest
deforestation, the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
Globally, tropical deforestation contributes at least 20 percent of global greenhouse gases more than the entire transportation sector. Proposed cuts to the USAID budget are directly counter to what President Bush agreed to at the recent G-8 summit in Germany. At that meeting, the G-8 leaders, including Bush, agreed that reducing, and in the long run halting deforestation provides a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and toward conserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable forest management and enhancing security of livelihoods. They also agreed to remain engaged in helping developing countries achieve their self commitments for halting forest loss.
The USAID budget cuts will sabotage emerging efforts to protect forests in developing countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and South America, where USAID programs support the emergence of community management of natural resources. The proposed budget cuts also undermine these nations efforts to develop their economies and strengthen their democracies. Poverty, political instability, and conflicts are often driven by unsustainable exploitation of timber, diamonds, wildlife, and other natural resources. Through its conservation programs, USAID has been instrumental in strengthening democratic governance and fighting poverty in Brazil, Liberia, Indonesia, and many other countries.
Once the leader in support to governments and communities in equitable management of natural resources, the U.S. Administration now risks losing that position, and at a very critical juncture. Other leaders of industrialized nations have indicated they will advocate tropical forest conservation as a key means to help battle climate change by linking reduced tropical forest deforestation to global markets for carbon credits. The worlds largest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States is also the richest nation. Through an investment-led approach, we have a unique opportunity to help developing countries benefit from good forest (and therefore carbon) management. These countries need financial assistance to foster civil society and governmental institutions capable of protecting and managing forests. Planned USAID budget cuts will eliminate programs that help developing countries stop illegal logging, build national park systems, and provide poor people economic alternatives to cutting down their forests. Tapping the emerging carbon markets can be one of those alternatives.
Two specific and embarrassing ironies in the Administrations planned cuts are the impacts they will have on the Congo Basin and Madagascar. President Bush is proposing a one-third reduction of funding for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership while the G-8 identified the Congo Basin as an important area for addressing deforestation. The USAID contribution to that Partnership, the Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), would be slashed, undermining U.S. commitments negotiated by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. CARPE has achieved great advances in protecting forests and threatened species, expanding parks, and building ecotourism and other income sources for the regions desperately poor communities. If the cuts are enacted, the program will not provide enough support to help the people of the region stop the devastation of this huge tropical forest.
In Madagascar, USAID funding is being targeted for a 60 percent reduction, which will put the brakes on the work by Madagascar's government to help its struggling population protect its rare and species-rich tropical forests. Again, the U.S. cuts could end promising but nascent progress supported by a pro-environment and pro-American government.
For tropical forests to play their role in preventing catastrophic climate change, we need more forest protection funding for developing nations, not less. A good example is with Indonesia, where Germany and Australia aim to provide well over $100 million to develop financial markets, improve law enforcement, manage parks and reserves, and reduce poverty in order to slow and eventually reverse deforestation.
Here we also find a positive move from the U.S. Administration. It is currently working with Congress on a debt-for-nature swap under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. If this goes forward, at least $20 million of debt owed by the Indonesians to the U.S. government will be forgiven to generate funding that could help save Indonesia's forests and the carbon they contain. Conservation International and many other partners stand ready to help make this happen.
President Bush has made a statement about U.S. leadership on climate change, and now he has the chance to turn that rhetoric into real action that is readily obtainable. The United States must step forward and join other nations to support efforts to help developing countries save their forests through better governance and market-driven economic growth. A concrete first step would be be for Congress and the Administration to reverse the proposed USAID budget cuts. Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has already stepped up and shown this leadership by restoring the funds in the appropriations bill coming out of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
It is not too late for President Bush to be remembered for being a leader who makes a wise decision for the United States, as well as for the world's climate, poor communities, and threatened forests.