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Time to Solve the Loss of the World’s Tropical Forests…some tools to get us there

Jake Schmidt

Posted June 1, 2009

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I've been spending a lot of my time recently trying to get a strong structure for addressing the loss of the world's tropical rainforests as a part of the US climate bill.  This took two parallel tracks -- developing a strong coalition for supporting specific provisions and trying to get good pieces in the climate bill that was working its way through the House Energy and Commerce committee (as NRDC discussed here).

Before digging into the details of how these efforts played out, it is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves why addressing deforestation is so critical.  Here are a couple of reasons (as I've discussed here, here, and here):

  • Each year the world loses an area of tropical forests approximately the size of New York State to deforestation;
  • Untold amounts of biodiversity are lost in the process, not to mention the livelihoods of many people; and
  • Destruction of tropical forests is responsible for roughly 20% of the world's global warming pollution -- more than all cars, trucks, planes, and ships combined.

So how did those two parallel efforts on deforestation play out?

NRDC joined a strong coalition of environmental groups and businesses to push for a set of incentives to help reduce the loss of the world's tropical rainforests as a part of the US climate bill.  This coalition was made up of: American Electric Power, Conservation, International, Duke Energy, El Paso Corporation, Environmental Defense Fund, Marriott International, Mercy Corps, National Wildlife Federation, PG&E Corporation, Sierra Club, Starbucks Coffee Company, The Nature Conservancy, The Walt Disney Company, Union of Concerned Scientists, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Woods Hole Research Center.  A pretty impressive group!

Frances Beinecke, our President, and Michael Morris the head of American Electric Power were on a press call on behalf of this group to launch a set of principles to provide incentives to reduce deforestation emissions (see here for one story from the press call).  These principles (available here) contain a number of key elements, but boil down to two key elements:

  • Setting aside 5% of the allowance value for near-term emissions reductions, market-readiness, capacity building, and leakage prevention; and
  • Carbon offsets for deforestation reductions that meet high standards of environmental accountability, with a transition from subnational to national crediting under certain conditions.

And, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that passed out the House Energy and Commerce Committee largely recognizes and implements the provisions of this new coalition.  The bill sets aside 5% of allowances from the cap-and-trade system for deforestation reduction activities in tropical countries and contains provisions for high-quality forest carbon offsets at several scales: national, state and province, and program and project.  The largest emitting countries are only eligible at the outset to generate credits for national level deforestation reductions or only for states and provinces that reduce their total deforestation emissions during a transition period (5 years).  For a transition period (5 years with the possibility of receiving an extension under certain conditions), small emitting countries are eligible to generate credits for program or project level reductions (e.g., subnational).

As a recent New York Times Editorial put it:

"...with the rain forests shrinking and the planet warming up, it's crucial to get the right incentives in place - first as part of broad climate change legislation in the United States, then as part of a new global treaty that the world's nations hope to negotiate in the fall."

So it was a good couple of weeks for the world's tropical forests -- a strong new coalition has emerged and the House bill that just passed out of committee has some strong incentives.  Of course, simply creating the mechanisms isn't sufficient as everyone will need to work really hard to ensure that these incentives achieve tangible reductions in the global warming pollution from deforestation.

So no time to take a rest...we aren't quite there yet, but we are getting closer to have some of the tools necessary to solve the loss of the World's tropical rainforests.

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Lisa ZelljadtJun 3 2009 05:32 PM

Hi Jake, I don't quite understand the 5-year thing for high-emitting countries: the text of the bill says that "the Administrator shall provide no further compensation through emission allowances" to projects at the subnational level after 5 years. It doesn't say anything about large emitting or small emitting countries. Sounds like everybody from Brazil to Papua New Guinea can get allowances for avoided deforestation projects at the local or project level for up to 5 years, then maybe longer if they can make a good case to the EPA. If they can't, it's national-level projects only from then on. But where's the distinction between high and low emitting nations?

Jake SchmidtJun 4 2009 05:28 AM

Large emitting countries (as defined in the Act) can only generate "subnational" credits if states/provinces as a whole reduce their emissions. Small emitting countries don't have to meet this "state/province" requirement, but can do "projects and programs".

Both are only allowed for 5 years, but the "small emitters" can get an extension for subnational credits under certain conditions.

The small-large language is in Sec. 743(e), with the large emitting countries in paragraph (5)--pg. 491--and the small language is in (6)--pg. 494.

Philippe SolomonJun 6 2009 01:59 PM

Hi Jake,
I would be interested to discuss with you if you can give me your email, our African project on avoided deforestation, which should produce 300 million tonnes of co2 with the first two African Countries on our agenda in the next 12 months, and we project to reach 800 million tonnes within 5 years with 6 other countries of the Congo basin.
We are very advanced, and are using REDD baseline deforestation methodology for forestry zones in danger of deforestation in Africa and will be implementing the VCS and Social Carbon standards through TZI registry.
Our project is at the highest levels of the African states ( Heads of States ), and is concentrating on preservation of remaining tracks of the tropical and primary African rain forests and the preservation of the unique biodervisity in theses areas, as well as helping the local communities.
We are creating the first Pan-African NGO that wll receive 40% of revenues on top of international funding for projects linked to sustainable development.
I would love to discuss all this with you, as I can see that we could have good synergies together, as the US market seems to be now our primary target for selling the offsets with what is anticipated in the Waxman bill.

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