How much money is a tropical forest worth? Until now, the only way to find out was to burn or log it and use the land for other purposes. Despite critical intrinsic and cultural values, a standing forest had no tangible economic value of its own.
That is changing. Increased understanding of how and why the planet is warming has raised awareness of the vital role of tropical forests in regulating climate and benefiting people. The result is a new focus on creating economic market values for the services that tropical forests have always provided for free.
And on the road from Bali to Copenhagen, some important steps are underway.
A Bold New Step
The importance of standing forests to the fight to mitigate climate change was highlighted at the recent Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, California. Three U.S. states (California, Illinois, and Wisconsin) joined with six international governors from forest-rich states in Brazil and Indonesia to sign a landmark memorandum of understanding (MOU) about the importance of forests to climate change.
READ MORE: Governors Take Big Step on Climate Change.
The Brazilian and Indonesian states represent 50 percent of the world’s tropical forests and a majority of the world’s emissions from the burning and clearing of tropical forests. CI was instrumental in bringing the parties together and in crafting the language of the MOU, and at the event, both Governor Schwarzenegger and President-elect Obama expressed a strong desire to establish the United States as a key international ally in the battle to stabilize our climate.
In addition, Governor Schwarzenegger said this MOU sends “a strong message that [forest carbon] should be front and center during negotiations for the next global agreement on climate change.” As suggested by the President-elect’s participation, commitment at every level is required.
The Big Picture
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is negotiating the role of forest carbon as part of a new international treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Continuing discussions undertaken in Bali in 2007, the UNFCCC meeting in Poznan, Poland, will further review these issues in anticipation of negotiations scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in late 2009.
While no major actions are expected from the Poznan talks, the meeting is important for clarifying the potential for new initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the world adapt to climate change. For CI, two major issues involve halting deforestation and increasing investments in adaptation strategies around the world.
LEARN MORE: CI will be attending the UNFCCC in Poznan. Find out more about our presence there.
The Value of Forests
Tropical forests contain more than half of all species on Earth, help control flooding and protect soil, and are the foundation for the livelihoods and culture of many of the world’s indigenous and forest-dependent peoples.
Tropical forests also absorb and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
GRAPHIC: Learn how the burning and clearing of forests affects climate change.
By conserving tropical forests, we can minimize climate change and maintain the essential resources and services that the forests provide. But to do so, we need to provide incentives for forest-rich developing nations to preserve their existing jungles.
U.N.-led negotiations recognize the importance of curtailing emissions from deforestation. CI is working with partners to demonstrate that carbon offset initiatives can be used to reward countries for protecting standing forests.
One way is with Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD.
Stand, And Be Counted
Currently, only replanted or restored forests that absorb CO2 while growing are eligible for tradable carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, which doesn’t include intact forests that store huge amounts of absorbed CO2.
CI supports making the world’s standing tropical forests eligible for carbon credits in the next global climate change treaty through REDD strategies and initiatives. The money generated by credits for the carbon storage of standing forests would provide a financial incentive against deforestation. Tropical forest countries – and the governors who undertook the MOU described above – understand this strategy and have taken steps to conserve their valuable resources in the long-term interest of their people.
If done right, protecting tropical forests will provide multiple benefits – lowering carbon emissions now while the world works on transforming to low-carbon economies; bolstering sustainable development opportunities for forest-dependent peoples; and providing ecological benefits such as protecting biodiversity and water quality. In addition, protecting these forested areas presents an initial step on the road to adapting to climate change impacts that we cannot control. (For example, maintaining sensitive shade grown agriculture as climates become warmer and drier.)
We need new mechanisms in a global climate change treaty that provide a powerful financial incentive to save tropical forests, substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions and maintain essential natural resources for vulnerable people. The Poznan conference is a vital step along the way.
IN DEPTH: CI is a leader in carbon offset programs. Discover more about our climate change projects.