Even though the death knell is being sounded for newspapers, an editorial in The New York Times still can mark a topic’s official entry into public and policymaker consciousness. That’s why Friday’s Times editorial linking global deforestation with climate change is such a welcome sign for those who want an international climate change agreement that really works.
The Times piece is blunt about what leaving deforestation out of the Kyoto Protocol has cost the world:
A major shortcoming of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change was its failure to address the huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the destruction of the world’s rain forests. A proposal that rich nations be allowed to offset some of their emissions by paying poorer counties to leave their rain forests intact was shot down after European environmental groups objected. They argued that it would allow rich countries to buy their way out of their own obligations. The planet has been paying for that colossal blunder ever since.
And so no future climate change agreement can leave deforestation off the table — as the editorial puts it, “deforestation accounts for one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — about the same as China’s emissions, more than the emissions generated by all of the world’s cars and trucks.”
The Times goes on to praise the American Climate and Energy Security Act (AKA, Waxman-Markey) now making its way through the U.S. House for addressing deforestation in two ways: by setting aside 5 percent of revenues from a carbon trading system to help prevent deforestation, and by allowing the kinds of offsets rejected in Kyoto:
The economics make sense. It is a relatively inexpensive way for industrialized nations to get credit for reducing global emissions while they make the necessary investments to control their own pollution. And it is a good deal for poor countries. The World Bank estimates that an acre of rain forest converted to crops is worth $100 to $250. It’s worth far more under a system that puts a value on carbon. An average acre stores about 200 tons of carbon; assuming a low price of $10 a ton, that acre is suddenly worth $2,000.
I asked Eric Haxthausen, The Nature Conservancy’s director of U.S. climate change policy, what kind of impact the Times editorial would have on elevating the recognition of forest carbon’s role in climate change. Here’s his response:
The Times is recognizing what many inside the Beltway (NGOs, companies, and policymakers), but perhaps few outside the Beltway have realized: that tropical forest conservation is essential to solving climate change, and that investing now in building the conditions for developing countries to participate in forest conservation and carbon markets will quickly pay dividends by allowing us to tackle climate change at lower cost.
Forest conservation is a proven, cost-effective and readily available method of reducing emissions. Creating a system in which U.S. companies can earn credits for paying the cost of such emissions reductions makes good economic and conservation sense. It will benefit American businesses and consumers as well as those who live in the forests. And it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for conserving the amazing biodiversity of the world’s tropical forests. We are very pleased that the Waxman-Markey bill is so farsighted as to include this option.
(Image: Bulldozer clearing tropical rainforest in Acre state, Brazil. Credit: Haroldo Palo, Jr.)