Beverly Hills, CA – The states of California, Illinois and Wisconsin and six states in Brazil and Indonesia agreed today to work together on new programs 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 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich and the governors or emissaries of Amazonas, Pará, Mato Grosso and Amapá states in Brazil and Papua and Aceh provinces in Indonesia represents a giant leap forward for the concept of carbon emitters in industrialized societies paying for the service provided by tropical forests in absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
IN PHOTOS: Explore Pará and Amapá states.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent greenhouse gas blanketing the Earth to cause climate change. 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 percent* 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 industrialized nations for timber, palm oil, beef and other commodities destroys an area the size of England every year, and 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, Wisconsin and Illinois 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. The US governors' leadership in this area will help stabilize 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".
Seligmann gave opening remarks and led a panel discussion on forestry at the Governors' Global Climate Summit convened Nov. 18-19 in Beverly Hills by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The summit included governors from other U.S. 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 intention of these US governors to be proactive in combating climate change as we look forward to evolving U.S. federal climate legislation and the conclusion of UN negotiations in Copenhagen. It recognizes 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."
U.N.-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 US legislation.
"This would open the door for carbon credits derived from protecting forests to be used for compliance purposes under US 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 U.N.-led negotiations agreed last year in Bali, Indonesia, to 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.
Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.
*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.