Three U.S. states have taken a big step based on a remarkably simple fact that will impact how the world deals with climate change.
Here is the simple fact: Unless a climate change plan includes halting the burning and clearing of the world’s tropical forests, no amount of new clean energy sources or high-tech efficiency innovations will meet the challenge of global warming. We lose the forests, we lose the battle. It is that simple.
VISUAL: Check out a graphic representation of the role forests play in climate change.
Somehow that very simple, yet extraordinary fact has been left out of climate change solutions sanctioned by international treaties, such as the United Nation’s Kyoto Protocol. Even with heightened public awareness and concern about climate change, few people realize that fully 20 percent* of global greenhouse gases come from the destruction of forests, mostly in tropical developing nations. In fact, as the United States and China vie for first place as the largest global greenhouse gas emitter, the tropical developing countries Brazil and Indonesia are the world’s third and forth largest emitters due to deforestation.
Now, the states of California, Illinois and Wisconsin have joined with sister states in Brazil and Indonesia to correct this imbalance. Through state to state memoranda of understanding (MOUs), they aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation as a robust and permanent way to prevent climate change.
At the Governors’ Global Summit on Climate Change, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich signed MOUs with governors from the Brazilian states of Amapa, Mato Grosso, Amazonas and Para, and the Indonesia provinces of Aceh and Papua. These are regions that claim some of the world’s most biologically rich tropical plant and animal species diversity. These forested ecosystems provide millions of people with watersheds for drinking water and countless other sources of life-sustaining raw materials.
The dilemma for the forest-rich developing countries such as Brazil and Indonesia is the need to grow their economies by developing natural resources. Thus far, standing forests have little economic value on the world market, while forest clearing opens up land for industrial agriculture or provides timber and other commodities in demand by rich industrialized countries.
Negotiators are now addressing this point as they work toward a post Kyoto climate change treaty. With the current international treaty due to expire in 2012 and talks underway, Gov. Schwarzenegger convened the Governors’ Global Climate Summit on Nov. 18 and 19 to create a practical framework for continuing negotiations in December in Poznan, Poland. Currently 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.
Meanwhile, tropical forested areas the size of England are burned or cleared each year, and emissions keep rising while we look over the horizon for new technologies to save us. We are rapidly reaching a point of no return presaging a climate change catastrophe that could create unprecedented human suffering with millions of refugees and the extinction of nearly half the world’s species.
We have little time to lose. Reducing emissions from tropical deforestation can provide an important piece of the climate change solution right now. No new energy technologies or efficiencies are needed to make this happen. What is required is political will and leadership.
PROTECT AN ACRE: Your donation of $15 can save an acre of forest.
The agreements the U.S. governors are signing with governors from Brazil and Indonesia will pave the way to create carbon credits from activities that reduce emissions from deforestation that are real, measurable, verifiable and permanent. Policymakers could then allow these credits to be used within compliance mechanisms under U.S. legislation. Through these MOUs, these states in Brazil and Indonesia will be able to benefit economically while protecting their forests to combat climate change. Local communities and indigenous peoples will equitably benefit from revenues, and they will continue to have the natural resources they depend on for health and sustenance. And species diversity will be able to thrive.
The complexity and enormity of the climate change challenge certainly requires that we seek all possible solutions to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. Among them will be new clean energy sources, innovative technologies, greater efficiency, as well as protecting forests.
This visionary step by three U.S. states allows both industrialized countries and developing nations to begin to put in place 20 percent* of the solution that is ready and waiting to be harnessed for the benefit of all people, everywhere.
*CI regularly reassesses our assumptions and conclusions to ensure they are consistent with the most current and reliable data sources available so that we are delivering accurate and up-to-date information. Accordingly, in December 2009, we updated our estimates related to global greenhouse gas emissions to reflect the best and most current science. We now estimate that 16% of greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation and logging.
See our deforestation, logging and GHG emissions factsheet (PDF - 2.7KB) for details and data sources.