Every year, leaders of the world’s industrial powers – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States – hold talks known more for symbolic statements and gestures than substantive action.
This year’s G8 summit, from July 7-9 in Japan, could be different. The agenda focuses on climate change and related issues including energy security and rising food prices, and public awareness and expectations for progress are higher than ever.
While no comprehensive climate change strategy will emerge, the summit follows a recent pledge by German Chancellor Angela Merkel of more than $1.5 billion over the next five years to conserve tropical forests. As Merkel notes, tropical forests are home to biological diversity and healthy ecosystems that strengthen Earth’s resilience to global warming and help people adapt to the changing climate.
The burning and clearing of forests also is a major contributor to climate change, causing about 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, deforestation emits more greenhouse gases than all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes combined. Emissions from deforestation, rather than industrial discharges, make developing countries Brazil and Indonesia two of the world’s top four greenhouse gas polluters.
However, less than 1 percent of current investments in the global carbon market created by the Kyoto Protocol target forest-related solutions. Now Germany’s G8 partners can help correct that imbalance by matching Merkel’s commitment to forest conservation.
Nicholas Stern, the British economist and climate change analyst, estimates it will cost $10-$15 billion a year to halve deforestation and its harmful emissions. The money would help forest-rich developing countries such as Liberia and Guyana conserve their remaining jungle and promote the replanting of cleared or degraded regions in countries that have lost much of their original forest cover.
Negotiations are underway to determine how the money would be raised and distributed. In the end, there will be a variety of programs and mechanisms including international carbon funds and the trading of carbon credits on a global market.
Right now, the most powerful economies – which also are some of the major emitters – can help stop emissions from deforestation by matching Germany’s pledge. The result would be multiple benefits for the planet as a whole, and for the people living in and near the forests.
Tropical forests are home to more than half the species on Earth and harbor vital resources such as fresh water, food and medicines directly depended on by local communities, often the most vulnerable and poorest of society.
Every year, tropical forest equal to an area the size of England is destroyed for conversion to agriculture, grazing or industrial use, biofuels production, and resource extraction such as logging and mining. Continuing this rampant deforestation will undermine progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors such as energy and transport. If deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia continues at current rates, their emissions alone could counteract 80 percent of emissions reductions agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol.
“Halting deforestation is an immediate and cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” says Peter Seligmann, the chairman and CEO of Conservation International (CI). “Solutions for climate change that don’t include the conservation of carbon sinks such as tropical forests and oceans will fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent catastrophic impacts from rising global temperatures.”