Despite Lack of Climate Progress, Leaders Seeing Forests for the Trees

Written by Greg Fishbein on . Posted in Learn, The Wonk Room

These can be gloomy days for people seeking a solution to climate change. U.S. legislation failed to pass last year, and the new Congress is on a budget-cutting rampage that will likely jeopardize existing U.S. climate-funding commitments. Add to that the freezing temperatures across the country this past winter, and a general public fatigue with the climate issue, and it’s easy to be in a funk over the future of the planet.

The current malaise, however, ignores at least one bright spot: an expanding global conservation and development effort called REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The forest sector accounts for approximately 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s trains, planes and cars – and results in annual forest loss the size of New York State, with devastating effects for wildlife and the people who live and work in and around forests. Fortunately, we have four great reasons to be bullish on the future of REDD:

1. The world is with us. In spite of the challenges of achieving U.S. and global agreements on broader climate issues, 190 countries resoundingly agreed in December that REDD must be an integral part of the climate solution. And a broad group of countries have committed more than $4.5 billion in public funds – to be spent by 2012! – to get REDD further off the ground.

2. Political will is building. Results are only possible if the forest nations themselves take a leadership role in dealing with the issue. And indeed, country leadership is emerging that is well beyond our expectations of only a couple years ago. For example, by 2020, Brazil has committed to reduce deforestation by 80 percent, while Indonesia promises to reduce overall emissions by 41 percent. Taking on deforestation is now high on the agenda of national and local leadership in both countries, which together account for approximately half of global deforestation. And many other countries are taking similar unprecedented actions to protect their forests. Importantly, these efforts are not based on the promise of bags of cash in exchange for shutting down production in key sectors of their economies. Instead, forest nations are embracing a low-carbon, “green growth” development agenda as a means to long-term prosperity and employment, but with smarter planning that dramatically reduces the impact on forests. This month, for example, the leader of the Berau District of Indonesia formally announced his commitment to low-carbon development based on sustainable management of natural resources.

3. REDD is Green. Global consumers and corporations are increasingly insisting on a legal and sustainable supply of forest products, beef, oil palm (used to produce palm oil) and other high-impact commodities. Beyond just adopting progressive procurement policies, many corporations are investing in creative partnerships with local producers, NGOs, governments and others to create models for scaling up supply of these products. For example, in the Amazon, The Nature Conservancy is working together with beef companies, governments and local farmers to bring cattle ranching in compliance with Brazil’s strict forest regulations.

4. The numbers can work. No doubt REDD will require significant investment in activities such as preparing degraded land for agricultural expansion, improving productivity of cattle ranching and oil palm plantations, and helping timber operators implement more sustainable forest-management practices. But these transitional investments toward green growth are much more affordable and time-bound than earlier cost estimates, which assumed REDD required paying landowners to substantially reduce production. Indeed, the catalytic effects of Norway’s $1 billion commitments to Brazil and Indonesia, each, over a 10-year period is evidence that great partnerships can be made that are both impactful and affordable.

We can’t underestimate the challenges of realizing REDD, because changing behavior of strong and entrenched interests is always complex. But, it’s not a stretch to consider that, with the political leadership and resources currently on the table, now is the best opportunity of our lifetimes to halt deforestation. And this moment won’t last forever.

For The Nature Conservancy’s part, we are redoubling our efforts to support forest nations in achieving their ambitious green growth commitments – through implementing on-the-ground forest conservation programs, conducting innovative science to rigorously measure the carbon impacts of REDD, and providing policy advice grounded in practical experience.

Momentum is building to protect the world’s forests, and leadership is coming from the forest nations themselves.

Greg Fishbein is managing director of the Forest Carbon Program at The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Scott Warren, 2007 (Early morning sunlight illuminates mist in the humid forest of Iguaçu National Park, Brazil).

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Comments (1)

  • Anthony St. John


    Thank you Nature Conservancy for your efforts to educate the public about the current state and future consequences of climate changes we are already experiencing.

    One of our institutions that must immediately upgrade their leadership and efforts to support Nature Conservancy are America’s universities that have failed to produce political leaders who are dedicated to protecting humanity from global warming causes.

    Thus our political leaders continue to fail to act with the knowledge and sense of urgency required to protect acceptable quality of life for future generations.


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