Bipartisan panel calls for billions
to slow deforestation

E&E News ClimateWire
By Jessica Leber, E&E reporter
October 7, 2009

A high‐level, bipartisan commission is urging the U.S. to direct billions of dollars to developing nations that are willing to slash tropical deforestation rates and avoid carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon releases from forest destruction today account for 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the world's entire transport sector. Flipping the financial incentives so that tropical nations will instead protect these forests could halve deforestation emissions by 2020 and bring them to a net‐zero sum by 2030. The group calls this goal "ambitious but achievable." The Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, in releasing a policy roadmap today, argues that without such efforts, it will be impossible to avert a climate crisis. Its goal is to increase the visibility of the issue and to direct Congress and the Obama administration toward "effective, politically viable" forest protections.

"This is a method, especially in the near term, to lower costs of cutting emissions. We're confident that we need to do this now," said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, also noting that forest carbon payment plans would be a boon to broader conservation goals and would help local populations.

The 16 members of the commission, formed earlier this year, include former Cabinet officials and lawmakers, military experts, business executives and conservation groups. It is co‐chaired by former independent Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Center for American Progress President John Podesta.

Climate analysts argue that proposals to tackle deforestation are a critical part of any new global climate agreement, both because they engage developing nations in making emissions cuts and because they offer industrial nations a low‐cost way to offset their own emissions.

Brazil offers a plan

Brazil, one of the largest emitters, has already proposed forth strong domestic targets to protect its own forests and is the country nearest to offering forest credits that might pass muster on a carbon market. "The most striking thing to me was how ready, particularly the Brazilians, are to work with the international community on this issue. It's just a terrific chance for international cooperation," said Chafee.

But first, to come to an agreement, industrial nations will have to put money on the negotiating table.

"It ultimately comes down to a commitment that's backed up by the funding. That's the bottom line," said Chafee. This is something the United States has yet to do, even as tropical nations called for commitments at a U.N. meeting in September.

The commission's report lays out a minimum price tag for the United States ‐‐ namely, public investments totaling $1 billion a year before 2012, gradually increasing to $5 billion by 2020, and private‐sector investments of roughly $9 billion a year by 2020.

The House‐passed climate legislation, co‐sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D‐Calif.) and Edward Markey (D‐Mass.), would, beginning in 2012, stimulate roughly those levels of investment, the report estimates.

Private sector buys offsets to pay most costs

Public funding would come from the bill's 5 percent emissions allowance allocation to tropical forest efforts. Meanwhile, the private sector would end up investing the required billions in order to offset its own emissions under a cap‐and‐trade plan.

But those cash infusions would pay back. The report estimates that U.S. companies would save $50 billion by 2020 by buying these offsets rather than reducing emissions domestically.

Tercek, however, emphasized that up‐front funding before 2012 is sorely needed to help countries prepare these ambitious programs, which would require countries to accurately ensure emissions reductions while preventing fraud and protecting indigenous populations.

"That makes a big difference in this space. Time is not on our side."

Among other recommendations, the commission urged that the United States explore creating an official financial intermediary to aggregate forest carbon offset supply and demand, as well as a coordinating council to oversee tropical forest conservation programs.

The commission also wants to see funds directed smartly. For example, it said that the Amazon‐Andes forests are of particular importance to U.S. economic and security interests and should be a priority. And over time, it said, funds should be increasingly targeted to developing nations that meet ambitious emission reduction goals.

Copyright 2009, E&E Publishing, LLC. Reprinted with permission.

The Commission

Lincoln Chafee, Co-Chair

Former United States Senator, Rhode Island

John Podesta, Co-Chair

President and CEO, Center for American Progress

Sam Allen

President and Chief Executive Officer, Deere & Company

D. James Baker

Director, Global Carbon Measurement Program, The William J. Clinton Foundation

Nancy Birdsall

President, Center for Global Development

Sherri Goodman

Former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security

Chuck Hagel

Former United States Senator, Nebraska

Alexis Herman

Former Secretary of Labor

Frank Loy

Former Under Secretary of State for Global Afairs

Michael G. Morris

Chariman, President and CEO, American Electric Power

Thomas Pickering

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Cristián Samper

Director, National Museum of Natural History

Lynn Scarlett

Former Deputy Secretary of the Interior

General Gordon Sullivan

Former Chief of Staff, United States Army

Mark Tercek

CEO, The Nature Conservancy

Nigel Purvis, Executive Director

President, Climate Advisers