|March 15, 2009
Change. Hope. Tropical Forests.
During the 2008 campaign, then-Senators Obama and Biden were explicit about the importance of stopping tropical deforestation. In their campaign’s Environmental Plan (view
the whole plan on the link to the right), the Obama-Biden team
spelled out four key steps to “Make the U.S. a “Leader in Combating
Climate Change around the World”.
The 4 points were:
- Re-Engage the UN Framework Convention on Climate change.
- Create a New Forum of Largest Greenhouse Gas Emitters
- Transfer American Technology to the Developing World, and…
- Confront Deforestation and Promote Carbon Sequestration
The campaign material plan hits all the right notes on the subject of tropical deforestation:
A comprehensive strategy to combat global warming must address tropical deforestation which accounts for approximately 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing rates of tropical deforestation will not only slow greenhouse gas emissions but will also protect the livelihoods of local people and the abundance of biodiversity inextricably linked to those forests. By offering incentives to maintain forests and manage them sustainably, the United States can play a leadership role in dealing with climate change.
The plan recognizes that tropical deforestation is 20% of global GHG emissions. It notes that reducing deforestation can also have important co-benefits. Most important, the plan suggests the US will exert global leadership by offering incentives for developing countries to conserve their forests. The Tropical Forest Group couldn’t agree more.
It should be no surprise that tropical deforestation played such a prominent role in their thinking on climate change and the environment. Senator Biden was one of the original sponsors of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) in 1998. More recently he worked with Senator Lugar to re-authorize and expand the TFCA to cover coral reefs. Vice-President Biden had an 88% lifetime LCV environment score. President Obama had an impressive 96% rating from the League of Conservation Voters before taking office.
Now we will see if the administration can follow through and make tropical deforestation a corner piece of the new US climate change strategy. As the administration shifts fully into governance, TFG hopes to see real examples that the US will push the envelope on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries (known as REDD in the UN vernacular). TFG has read the early tea leaves (and the new http://www.whitehouse.gov/ website) and the initial signs are promising.
Early Tea Leaves
When the new White House website was launched, two topics were from the President’s agenda were highlighted on the home page– the economy (#1) and energy and environment (#2). Amazingly, the fresh public face of the US Executive Branch did not throw the environment overboard even with the souring economy. Now (March 09), just two months on the job, the new administration isn’t shying away from the environment. They are projecting roughly $650+ billion in revenue over ten years from a Cap and Trade system as part of their long term budget, starting coincidentally in 2012 (when the Kyoto Protocol expires). The US EPA is moving toward requiring greenhouse gas reporting from major emitters. There have been some stellar environmental appointments and nominations (Lubchenco, Chu, Clinton and others). The President’s nominated Science Advisor, John Holdren, clearly understands tropical deforestation in depth. (He was most recently at the Woods Hole Research Center, a leader on the topic. TFG literally bumped into Dr. Holdren as he left the White House in early March. He hasn’t been confirmed and couldn’t talk about anything, but we got the sense he knows how critical REDD is for mitigating climate change.)
There are other encouraging signs. When one clicks on the “Energy and Environment” link on the White House home page, the new page immediately talks about the global climate crisis. It would have been unimaginable for the last administration’s website to ever use the words “global climate crisis” together on their website.
In other words, despite some other mega issues, the Obama-Biden team is sticking to its green guns. They seem to understand that in most major recessions, old jobs don’t come back, but new ones in new sectors do. Many governments seem to be banking on a green recovery to pull us out of the Great Disruption.
Will the US lead on REDD and Tropical Deforestation?
With a new administration comes a plethora of hope and expectation. This is as true for climate change and tropical forests as for every other issue on Americans’ minds.
Somewhat to be expected, the campaign rhetoric on tropical deforestation hasn’t yet materialized publicly in the new administration’s work. They have only been in power for a few months. We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves here. At the same time, we can’t let down our guard. In the past we saw early presidential promises for tropical forests evaporate or decline. Former President Bush made a strong commitment to help “encourage forest conservation efforts”. Yet throughout their eight years, the old administration mainly disrupted UN negotiations at large and didn’t seem to understand the importance and possibilities associated with REDD.
Here are four ways the new US administration can gain some early momentum on REDD and fighting tropical deforestation.