I’m Eric Haxthausen, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s U.S. Climate Policy program, and I’ll be blogging over the coming weeks and months about U.S. climate legislation. On Friday, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, the chairmen of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced comprehensive legislation that would address global warming and energy security. This is the first time that a detailed climate change bill has been introduced in the House, and it comes after extensive negotiations with members of Congress representing a diverse array of districts.
Next week, members will attempt to pass the bill out of the committee, with the hope of completing their work before Memorial Day.
Why does The Nature Conservancy care about this and what do we think of the bill?
As Congress considers climate legislation, the Conservancy has been focused on three fundamental questions:
- Will the bill have emission reductions that are strong enough to give us a chance to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, sea level rise and acidification of the oceans?
- Will the bill recognize the enormous role that forests can play in storing carbon, and provide the funding and incentives that will be essential to reverse the course of deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia and restore areas that have been previously reforested?
- Will the bill recognize the enormous task ahead to protect vulnerable ecosystems and communities from sea level rise, drought, temperature and rainfall shifts, and the many other big changes that we are already beginning to experience?
Here’s how the bill stacks up in these key areas:
The bill would set a slowly declining cap on emissions beginning in three years, to drive investment in energy efficiency and low carbon technologies, building on the investments already contained in the economic recovery package and the 2007 energy bill.
The cap would reduce the U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming “pollutants” by 17 percent in 2020, 42 percent in 2030, and 83 percent in 2050. These levels are largely consistent with the recommendations of the US Climate Action Partnership.
The Nature Conservancy has called for greater emission reductions in 2020, and we continue to believe those are needed, but 17 percent is a strong starting point, especially if it gains the support of power companies and others that will have to comply with the new legislation.
The bill takes great strides in supporting efforts to reduce deforestation. It would set aside unprecedented funding to support efforts to prepare developing countries to map, monitor, and prevent deforestation. Scientists can now develop carbon sequestration projects and accurately determine how much carbon dioxide is being sequestered within the project. But building this expertise in developing countries will require training and funding. This provision would provide funding for the incentives necessary to reduce deforestation, and protect intact forests in countries that have not yet come under the ax.
It also opens up the carbon market to efforts to reduce deforestation, so companies can include support for efforts to reduce deforestation among their compliance options.
As the bill moves through the Committee and Congress, we will be working to ensure that it gives appropriate credit to reductions in forest “degradation” – gradual destruction of the forest as opposed to clear-cutting.
In implementing forest carbon projects – especially in Noel Kempff – The Conservancy has found that degradation was contributing more CO2 to the atmosphere than straight deforestation. It will also be important to ensure crediting of efforts to restore and better manage forests in the United States and abroad, as well as to conservation of grasslands and other ecosystem types that restore carbon.
Another need is to educate and engage forest landowners in the U.S. in participating in carbon markets.
Protecting vulnerable ecosystems and communities
The bill would provide dedicated funding for efforts to safeguard our natural resources and affected communities in the U.S. in the face of the impacts of climate change. (Read more about this funding here.)
The concept of dedicated funding is very important. In the past, conservation funding has been subject to the whims of the annual appropriations process. A commitment to guarantee future funding will allow land managers and others working on conservation activities to plan ahead and implement long-term projects without stops and starts.
We are especially grateful to Congressman John Dingell, who has been a steadfast champion for conservation, and whose efforts have made this dedicated funding possible.
On the international side, the bill provides dedicated funding for protecting vulnerable communities in the most vulnerable developing countries. Ecosystem-based approaches to guard against storm surge, drought, and other threats can play an important role both there and in the U.S. and are often cost-effective relative to other strategies. We will be working to ensure that these get appropriate attention as the bill progresses.
The need for additional conservation efforts in order to cope with climate change is daunting. This bill provides a good start, but we will be working throughout the process to build support for these critical needs that can sometimes fall to the bottom of the list when other interests are at stake. In particular, we hope for further increases in funding to address the needs of ecosystems and vulnerable communities in the United States and in developing countries as the bill moves forward.
One key factor that can’t be forgotten is the importance of linking U.S. policy to what is happening internationally. As a global organization, The Conservancy is mindful of the need to develop a domestic policy that fits with what is happening around the world.
Sizable funding for international adaptation and forest preservation will be critical to achieving the kind of global agreement that we need to keep climate change from getting out of control. As former President Bill Clinton noted we will also need strong emissions reductions in the 2020 timeframe. We will be working hard over the course of this process to ensure that U.S. policy provides what is needed for a global effort to protect the planet and conserve our most precious natural places.
(Photo: Jonathon Colman, Creative Commons License)