Deforestation is responsible for 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Deforestation is responsible for 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Leaders from a broad range of political, environmental, development and business communities are calling for U.S. action on deforestation in anticipation of the UNFCCC COP-15 in Copenhagen this December.



Earlier this month, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), along with a coalition of policy and scientific experts known as the “Avoided Deforestation Partnership,” led a Congressional Briefing on climate and forests, urging Congress to include strong tropical forest protection measures in U.S. climate policy.

The partnership encourages the U.S. to advance a diverse set of solutions, including market and non-market based approaches towards avoided deforestation, and to involve a wide group of experts and stakeholders, including scientists, developing nations, indigenous groups, local communities, civil society, and industry in crafting solutions that are sustainable, scalable, and equitable.


In her opening remarks, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai remarked, “Without the leadership of the United States of America, everybody else will say, maybe this is not as serious as it seems. If America is not concerned, then it cannot be a serious issue.”


Just ten days later, this sentiment was echoed by Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who urged U.S. leadership on climate change in a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


Protecting tropical forests and reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation is not only a critical measure to putting the brakes on rising carbon emissions at a reasonable cost, but is regarded by many as a win-win-win strategy.  “It’s good for climate change, good for biodiversity, and good for economies around the world,” says Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “Forests are being destroyed at rapid rates, and this solution will not be available to us if we wait too long. Forest protection is one of the most cost-effective methods available to fight climate change with the unmatched benefit of preserving biodiversity at the same time.”


The imperative for incorporating the LULUCF sector into climate change mitigation strategies cannot be overstated.  Deforestation is responsible for approximately 20% of carbon emissions annually, and in developing nations with high rates of deforestation like Brazil and Indonesia can account for up to 80% of total annual emissions. (To get a sense of  Furthermore, reducing emissions in the LULUCF sector is arguably the most cost-effective strategy available for significant short-term reductions—this is obvious when looking at the abatement potential of LULUCF strategies per unit cost (€ per ton CO2e) in McKinsey’s newly published cost abatement curve, more so when you consider the amount of time it will take strategies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) to be viable.


This is not to say that the avoided deforestation strategy has been perfected, and those following the REDD mechanism’s (lack of) progress through the UNFCCC process to date will attest to that.  On the scientific and technical side, there remain significant methodological problems to resolve, involving establishing appropriate baselines, proving additionality, developing monitoring capacity, and so on.  The social side of REDD is even more tenuous, and developing ways to make REDD projects sustainable and equitable from the local to the global scales will involve addressing some fundamentally contentious issues.


But the public interest in avoided deforestation and the political will for REDD and related projects, for reasons given above, is probably higher than it has ever been. And timing is of the essence.


Stuart Eizenstat, who led the U.S. delegation in the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol under President Clinton, says the time has come for the U.S. to take leadership on the issue. “By valuing carbon stored in forests, the United States can lead the way to solve global climate change and protect forests and the people and species that depend on them.  What is required now is for the United States to take up the mantle of forest protection so that it will serve as a model to the rest of the world.”  Here’s hoping the 2009 delegation to Copenhagen gets the message.

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