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A new bipartisan coalition of business, government and environmental leaders is asking the Senate to make deforestation a centerpiece of the climate bill by allocating billions to fund tropical forest preservation programs in developing nations.

In a new report released to POLITICO, the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests argues that paying developing tropical countries to preserve their forests would provide economic incentives to stop deforestation, a major driver of global warming.

Tropical deforestation accounts for roughly 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a rate that makes Brazil one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases, along with far richer nations like the United States and China.

“It is truly time for America to launch a comprehensive response to this manageable threat,” writes former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. “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.”

But deforestation has long been a thorny issue for domestic and international climate policy.

Previous efforts to curb deforestation have largely failed because of difficulties in verifying and monitoring the programs and reporting on them. Environmental groups have also criticized some of the programs as open to abuse by corrupt politicians in poorer countries and by illegal logging companies.

Now the commission is saying the time is finally right to ink some serious forestry provisions — and action must start at home.

“This will be a big topic of discussion in Copenhagen, and clearly Copenhagen can be more successful to the degree the U.S. has a good program,” said Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek, referring to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Denmark this December.

A U.N. forestry program known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is expected to be one of the cornerstones of the climate agreement. The program, originally drafted during the 2005 climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, would start in 2013 and could channel tens of billions of dollars from rich countries to poor ones.

Eliminating deforestation will not only cut greenhouse gas emissions, the authors of the report argue, but also improve national security and the plight of vulnerable indigenous people who depend on forests for their livelihoods. It could also help spur the development of new, environmentally friendly technologies by creating low-cost opportunities for American companies to export clean energy technologies to developing countries.

“This is a win-win-win,” Tercek said. “It lowers the cost of compliance [with cap-and-trade programs], it works for indigenous vulnerable people, and it’s an opportunity for the U.S. to be a diplomatic leader.”

The group would like the U.S. to lead a global partnership aimed at cutting emissions from tropical deforestation in half within the next decade and achieving zero net emissions by 2030. Members include former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering; Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power; former Army chief of staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan; and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

It’s also calling on the Senate to authorize billions to pay poorer countries to maintain their forests.

The commission proposes that the U.S. invest $1 billion by 2012 in deforestation programs, an amount that would increase to $5 billion a year by 2020. The public-sector funding would be paired with a $9 billion annual investment from the private sector.

The money would be used to give developing countries an incentive to adopt sustainable-land-use practices.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut