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Major bipartisan Commission calls for U.S. leadership to protect ‘climate forests’

High-level group’s report recommends American-led effort to halve emissions from deforestation by 2020 as cost-effective climate solution




October 7, 2009 Washington, DC — Washington, D.C. – With momentum building in the United States for cost-effective action on climate change, the bipartisan, multi-sector Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests released its report today calling on the United States to lead a global effort to halve emissions from tropical forest destruction within a decade. The report identifies tropical deforestation as a threat to vital national interests and recommends that U.S. policymakers and the international community move rapidly to scale-up a global effort to protect tropical forests as the most cost-effective way to achieve fast, large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions.

Reminding readers that tropical deforestation is responsible for 17 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector, the report underscores the need to incorporate international action on deforestation into both U.S. and global climate solutions. The report, “Protecting the Climate Forests: Why reducing tropical deforestation is in America's vital national interest," presents a blueprint for U.S. leadership on arresting tropical deforestation in advance of the December UN climate talks in Copenhagen and further debate on climate legislation in the Senate.

The report notes that a well-designed cap-and-trade program would provide an effective mechanism for financing and implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Four of the Commission’s thirteen recommendations deal directly with how to reduce emissions from tropical forests through a cap-and-trade system. The report notes that while prospects for Senate approval of a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade bill are uncertain, U.S. leadership in stemming deforestation must not be.

Former Rhode Island Senator and Commission co-chair Lincoln Chafee said, “It is truly time for America to launch a comprehensive response to this manageable threat. Protecting the planet’s climate forests and fighting climate change can be the defining bipartisan issue of our time, but so far that bipartisanship has been largely absent. The Commission strongly urges our elected leaders to recognize the obligation we have and embrace this opportunity for collaboration. Time is running out, and our actions now will have implications for generations to come.”

Fellow Commission co-chair and Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta also stressed the urgency of action. “Climate change is a challenge unlike any we’ve ever seen, demanding strong domestic policies and vigorous global leadership from the United States. That means effective near-term solutions at both the national and international levels that fundamentally change our environment’s dangerous trajectory. The Commission strongly urges the U.S. to enact strong domestic climate policy and lead an international effort to provide sufficient resources to ensure tropical deforestation is addressed. We must accomplish this goal. Our common future depends on it.”

Reflecting the broad appeal of this approach, the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests includes Democrats and Republicans; former elected and Cabinet officials; former high-level U.S. diplomats and military leaders; scientists and climate experts; business leaders in manufacturing and energy production; and environmental and development experts and advocates.

A complete list of Commissioners and their bios, along with the complete report text, are available here.

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel noted, “Tropical deforestation is a major element of the climate threat and requires our immediate attention, as any other global crisis would. It is clearly in our national interest – economic, foreign policy, national security and beyond – to confront this threat. As the world’s largest economy and most powerful nation, we must work closely with our allies in both the developed and developing worlds to cut emissions from tropical deforestation in half within a decade. We have helped the world face potentially catastrophic threats before. We must heed the call to do so again. Saving forests is a climate strategy that makes sense regardless of one’s political views.”

A Cost-Effective Commitment

The Commission’s report lays out thirteen recommendations for addressing tropical deforestation through U.S. policy. Chief among them is an investment of $1 billion in public funding by 2012; by 2020 the Commission recommends mobilizing $9 billion annually in private-sector forest conservation investments and increasing the annual public contribution to $5 billion. Although the sums are substantial, these investments would actually help save U.S. consumers and companies $50 billion by 2020 compared to the cost of pursuing comparable domestic climate strategies alone.

“We must find solutions to address global warming in an economically viable way,” emphasized Michael G. Morris, Chairman, President, and CEO of American Electric Power, the largest electric utility in the United States. “Preventing deforestation and degradation in tropical regions is an important part of the answer – it is one of the most effective and inexpensive tool for addressing climate change, and provides an excellent way to mitigate the costs of other climate solutions.”

Sam Allen, President and CEO of Deere & Company agreed and offered a unique perspective on the importance of tropical forests. “A robust global economy is critical to expanding the agricultural output necessary to meet the increasing needs of a growing and increasingly affluent population,” said Allen. “Rational, market-based protections that control the cost of carbon reductions offer the best approach to enabling farmers around the world to meet the food production challenge in a sustainable manner. Halting that destruction makes business sense as a cost-containment measure and as a long-term investment in healthy cropland and forest economies.”

“A low-carbon economy holds tremendous potential for American job creation – but we have to get there first,” said former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. “A smart climate policy would address the near-term costs of transitioning to clean energy, and protecting tropical forests as part of that policy provides a solution. Not only can we reduce a major source of CO2 – we can also lay a solid foundation for a new economy built on energy efficiency, advanced renewable power, smart grids and beyond. ”

Among other recommendations, the report endorses U.S. companies investing in forest protection through strong and verifiable “offset” programs. The report recommends a detailed policy framework to ensure transparency and achieve the greatest return on investment from forest financing projects.

“Reducing deforestation and creating new forests are the quickest and most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But it must be done the right way. Proper monitoring, reporting and verification are essential to the success of any program we create. We have a choice – to act now and launch an effective global system, or to watch our broader efforts on climate fail. I think the choice is clear,” added Commissioner D. James Baker of the Clinton Global Initiative and former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“With other nations, the United States has an opportunity to shape a strong international response that takes advantage of the multiple co-benefits to economic growth and social change of reducing deforestation in developing countries,” said Nancy Birdsall, President of the Center on Global Development. She continued, “The plain and simple economic reality is that doing so is among the cheapest and most effective single vehicles for reducing emissions on the table for the next decade and beyond.”

The Solution to Multiple Problems

According to the report, slowing climate change would be one of many benefits from dramatically reducing tropical deforestation. A global effort to conserve tropical forests would strengthen U.S. national security by reducing international instability, help alleviate global poverty and conserve the priceless biodiversity found in the planet’s most productive ecosystems.

Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and chair of the Military Advisory Board Gen. Gordon Sullivan noted the importance of tropical forests to maintaining stability and security in key regions around the globe. “We know unequivocally that climate change, left unaddressed, will become a threat multiplier in dangerously unstable regions of the world – and tropical deforestation is a threat multiplier for climate change. Deforestation not only accelerates that change, but it causes soil degradation, loss of fresh water and reduced access to natural resources – all of which displace populations and intensify security issues.

Sherri Goodman, former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, added, “Our national security leaders have wisely recognized the threat posed by climate change, and the unavoidable next step is to address its causes – of which tropical deforestation is a major one. Many forest-abundant nations are central to U.S. interests, and are located in regions where fragile states, extremists and political unrest are already a serious concern. Swiftly and effectively stopping deforestation and slowing climate change must therefore be a national security priority.”

“Tropical forests serve as the lungs of the Earth: they manage the world’s carbon dioxide levels, are home to the world’s most diverse species and provide essential services – such as food, water and shelter – to millions of people across the globe,” underlined The Nature Conservancy’s President and CEO Mark Tercek. “The good news is preserving these forests requires no new technologies – just a truly collaborative effort that provides incentives to protect forests long-term. Successful on-the-ground projects prove we can achieve carbon emission reductions while working with local stakeholders to incentivize forest preservation.”

“Seeing firsthand the devastating effects of tropical deforestation is humbling. Many local communities, through conservation partnerships, are conserving tropical forests, but only U.S. policy leadership can galvanize global action with the speed, scope, and scale necessary to prevent catastrophic forest losses,” said Commissioner and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett.

“The destruction of tropical forests is at the crossroads of our two greatest environmental challenges: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the biological integrity of our planet,” noted Cristián Samper, Director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, “international and domestic climate policy cannot ignore this necessity and still succeed.”

The report uses Brazil as a case study to stress both the problem posed by tropical deforestation and a model for moving forward. Emissions from deforestation alone in Brazil account for 2.5-5.0 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, helping to make the country the fourth largest emitter in the world. Brazil represents a major opportunity, however, for a test ground for the Commission’s recommendations. Unlike many tropical forest countries, Brazil is already well positioned to monitor and verify emissions reductions and has set an ambitious national target of reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent by 2020.

U.S. Leadership is Vital to International Action

The Commission’s report calls on the United States to galvanize bold international action by enacting strong domestic policies and guiding international agreements and incentives to anchor a new push to conserve the planet’s climate forests.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering reiterated the importance of the United States to this mission. “Tropical forests offer a chance for developed nations, led by the U.S., to work hand-in-hand with developing nations to address climate change. The U.S. is the nation best suited to answer that call – and we must, not only to prevent catastrophe, but to restore our position as the leading global diplomat.”

Highlighting how including forests could help bring the world closer to consensus on global climate policy, former Chief U.S. climate change negotiator, Frank Loy, said, “Industrialized and developing countries see the problem differently. Reducing tropical deforestation addresses exactly these barriers. It puts developing and industrialized countries more on the same side, and dramatically lowers the cost of what we must do.”

Taken together, the Commission’s recommendations describe a pragmatic mix of market mechanisms, government incentives and international collaboration that would enable the United States to work with other nations to make dramatic and quick gains against deforestation.

About the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests

The Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, co-chaired by John Podesta and Senator Lincoln Chafee, is a bipartisan group of leaders from business, government, advocacy, conservation, global development, science and national security that has developed recommendations on the inclusion of tropical forest conservation in broader U.S. climate change policies. Tropical deforestation accounts for 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and protecting tropical forests is integral to combating climate change. The Commission’s recommendations are designed to help ensure U.S. climate policies provide the most effective response to this issue and are aligned with global solutions.

Report Recommendations

  • Halve deforestation within a decade. The United States should lead a global partnership to cut tropical deforestation in half within a decade and achieve zero net emissions from the forest sector by no later than 2030.
  • Create the financial incentives for forest protection. With the right policy mechanisms, the U.S. could alter the financial incentives that lead to tropical deforestation. To unlock cost savings, the United States should invest at least $1 billion by 2012, and U.S. policy should mobilize $5 billion annually by 2020 in public funding and $9 billion annually from the private sector.
  • Lead by example. The United States should adopt strong domestic climate change laws that reduce U.S. emissions 80% by 2050 and contain interim goals consistent with climate science. These domestic, timely and significant reductions are essential to galvanizing ambitious international action on tropical deforestation.
  • Leverage permit revenue. 5% of the value of tradable emission permits in a cap-and-trade program should be allocated to new international forest conservation programs. This is vital to engage key nations that may not be able to attract private capital and engage nations where the deforestation threat is growing.
  • Allow significant offsets. To mobilize private capital, the United States should permit regulated U.S. companies to “offset” a substantial portion of domestic emissions through investments in tropical forests.
  • Maintain a large-enough strategic reserve of permits. The pool of emission permits set aside to help control the cost of a new cap-and-trade program should be large enough to manage the risk that the supply of forest carbon “offsets” may prove insufficient to stabilize prices and avoid price spikes.
  • Explore U.S. “aggregator”. The United States should explore and consider establishing a financial intermediary to aggregate forest carbon offset demand and supply as a means to reduce U.S. costs and increase the climate benefits of every dollar invested in tropical forest conservation.
  • Forge ambitious forest protection goals in international agreements. The United States should work to ensure that international agreements with tropical forest nations secure actions by those nations that support global emission reduction goals for forests.
  • Incentivize national-scale action. As a means of encouraging nations to move swiftly to national scale actions, the U.S. should focus financial incentives to reward nations that are taking ambitious action, encourage nations to pursue large-scale policies and prevent the shifting of deforestation from one place to another.
  • Ensure transparency and local participation. The United States should support tropical forest nations in their efforts to develop transparent and credible procedures for making land-use decisions, consulting local communities, and reporting on the impacts of forest conservation programs.
  • Focus international forest conservation efforts on key areas. Not all forests are equally important to the United States and climate policy should reflect that reality. New forest conservation investments should be channeled to high priority areas for national security, poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.
  • Guarantee responsible management. The United States should establish a coordinating council and designate a lead office or agency to oversee tropical forest conservation programs.
  • Work towards full terrestrial greenhouse gas emission accounting. The United States should promote a comprehensive system of terrestrial carbon management that accounts for greenhouse gas emissions from forests, rangelands, agriculture and other major land-use categories.

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


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