Forest Carbon: No News is Good News

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Published on April 27th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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Continuing our coverage of the Waxman-Markey bill hearings on Capitol Hill, Jeff Fiedler, the Conservancy’s senior policy advisor for climate and forests, has the following to say about the debate – or lack thereof – over the proposed legislation’s forest carbon provisions:

Like many climate junkies, I’ve been following this week’s hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Initially, I was disappointed by the lack of attention forest carbon was receiving in these hearings.  After all, achieving climate benefits from forest carbon activities is one of the three pillars of The Nature Conservancy’s climate policy platform (along with adaptation and securing a strong overall climate policy regime in the United States and internationally).

But I’m coming around to the view that it’s a good thing forest carbon has not been among the top-tier issues raised by members of the committee and the hearing witnesses. Why?

  • It means that forest carbon has become accepted as part of the solution to global warming, and
  • It means that the hearings are grappling with the truly big picture issues of crafting a successful domestic climate policy.

Forest carbon as a climate response measure has not always been without controversy and drama. Over the years there have been many tough questions – some legitimate, some not – about the relationship between forest conservation and climate change. These questions include:

  • Do we technically know how to measure and monitor carbon stocks in forests? (The answer is decidedly “yes,” as the Conservancy has demonstrated repeatedly through projects around the world.)
  • What are the right incentive structures? (The draft bill includes a good mix of market-based incentives for domestic and international activities, and uses some allowance revenue to build capacity and fund additional climate benefits.)
  • Won’t forest carbon be a distraction from weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels? (The answer is an emphatic “No.” The draft bill has strong targets and timetables for limiting the major sources of global warming pollution along with complimentary measures such as energy-efficiency standards, all strongly informed by the USCAP Blueprint endorsed by the Conservancy.  Besides, deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all emissions – the same amount as the global transportation sector. We cannot stem global warming without stemming deforestation.)

For over 15 years, The Nature Conservancy has been at the forefront working to answer these questions. On the ground, implementing real forest carbon projects both in the United States and overseas; working on policy design issues; and educating policy makers and the public about the role of forests.

So maybe it’s a mark of success that there wasn’t any controversy or drama around forest carbon. Maybe it means that, with the growing urgency of addressing global warming, it’s accepted that forest carbon has to be part of the portfolio – that we need to use every tool in our toolbox.  And maybe it means that the domestic and international incentives for forest carbon activities that are included the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 are actually pretty well thought out. And that’s a good thing.

As an aside, to the extent that carbon sequestration has come up, there have been statements about ensuring that there are real opportunities in the forest and agriculture sectors for constituents and stakeholders. 

The Nature Conservancy believes that forest carbon activities can be an important new source of revenue for many states and districts. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 already contains a provision that would use a portion of the allowances to build capacity and ensure market readiness for international activities to reduce emissions from deforestation. And we are working on a similar provision to ensure that the domestic forest and agriculture sectors can really achieve their full potential.

(Photo: Arcoiris waterfall at Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia, South America. Credit: Hermes Justiniano.)

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