Finding Climate Solutions: Investing In Forests

December 16, 2009

Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

A fundamental aspect of addressing global climate change and shifting global energy use to alternative energy sources is using our natural, renewable resources more efficiently and effectively. As negotiators make progress in Copenhagen to develop the framework for a global agreement, policy makers around the world continue to consider how their nations can drastically cut emissions and store carbon while engaging all parts of the economy.

Forests are one of our greatest assets. In my home state of New Hampshire, the second most forested state in the country, forestry is an important part of our economy. Forestland supports a thriving forest products industry and provides many outdoor recreational opportunities that play a key role in attracting tourists to the state. Protecting and making better use of our forests is important for our economy in the long-term and for job creation.

But our forests offer more than economic opportunity and natural beauty - forestland can help achieve our goals of reducing carbon pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that U.S. forests currently sequester a remarkable 10 percent of our annual carbon emissions. Even more remarkable, the EPA estimates that we could double this sequestration capacity to 20 percent of emissions with the right management and conservation. That extra 10 percent reduction is equivalent to what we would achieve by converting every car in America to hybrid technology.

America's family forest owners control more than half of all U.S. private forestland and these landowners are critical to our efforts to achieve significant domestic greenhouse gas reduction goals. It is essential that we create the right incentives so that they conserve their land and apply forest management practices that sequester more carbon.

Earlier this year, I introduced the Forest Carbon Incentives Program Act of 2009 (S. 1576) with Senator Olympia Snowe. Our legislation would provide financial incentives for small private forest owners to engage in carbon sequestration activities that help our country meet its desired carbon reduction goals. This measure has been included in the Kerry-Boxer climate legislation and in Senator Stabenow's agriculture and forestry offsets legislation that I have co-sponsored. While this is encouraging for progress in the U.S., more can be done.

It is often said that climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. I could not agree more. Providing assistance to developing countries to prevent deforestation and forest degradation will be a key aspect of reaching a global deal. Tropical deforestation accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and if we are going to get serious about reducing global emissions - including our own - we need to support efforts in the developing world to reduce emissions through avoided deforestation and forest degradation.

In Brazil, deforestation accounts for 60 percent of total emissions. In Indonesia, that number rises to 80 percent. These staggering numbers actually make them the world's 3rd and 4th largest greenhouse gas emitters, after China and the United States. Architects of climate change legislation in the House of Representatives and Senate have recognized the importance of avoiding tropical deforestation in developing countries by providing technical and financial assistance to these countries. And assistance for deforestation efforts is incorporated in the International Climate Change Investment Act I recently cosponsored with Chairman John Kerry.

The value of these investments go beyond curbing greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, they could also be valuable in containing the costs of domestic climate policies. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the use of international offsets could cut the cost of carbon allowances in half. Although controversial, these powerful cost containment tools deserve careful consideration as we seek to protect consumers and businesses in the transition to a clean energy economy.

We will not achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals without comprehensive and effective use of our nation's forestland.

I have every confidence that with leadership from the United States, the global community can come together to craft meaningful actions to address the serious threats of climate change. By adopting policies here in the U.S. to enhance the role forestry can play, we can cut our own emissions and assist developing nations to do the same.

This is good for our climate and good for our economy. That's why everyone should get behind this effort.


By:  Jeanne Shaheen
Source: National Journal –Copenhagen Insider Blog