Tropical Rainforests are Part of the Global Climate Solution

Earth Day 2016 will go down in the history books as the day the world took action on climate change. Last Friday, representatives from 175 nations signed the Paris Agreement, which sets climate targets and includes pledges from every country to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the critical next step in combating climate change on a global level.

This is an unprecedented moment; it’s the largest number of countries to authorize an international agreement on the first day it was presented for signature, and it demonstrates a worldwide commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Importantly, the agreement also addresses the role of forests and nature in reducing and storing carbon, giving explicit direction to reduce emissions from deforestation by implementing conservation measures and sustainable forest management practices.

The Paris Agreement sets an ambitious goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Warming is driven by greenhouse gas emissions, and forest loss and poor land management generate nearly 25 percent of these emissions annually—equal to the amount of the entire global transportation sector. Between forest loss and other damaging land use practices, the message is clear – we can’t succeed in reducing global warming without changing how forests and other natural and working lands are managed, both globally and here in California.

While more than 100 countries pledged in the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions from their land, very few contain specifics about the role land use will play in meeting their climate mitigation targets.  But California is an exception, with programs already in place and many more in the works that capitalize on the state’s natural and working landscapes to remove and store carbon captured from the atmosphere, here in California and across the US.

Globally, Governor Jerry Brown also initiated several partnerships to combat climate change including last year’s Under 2 MOU, a signed commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Originating from a partnership between California and Germany’s Baden-Württemberg, twelve subnational governments – primarily tropical forest states – committed to generating climate benefits by reducing deforestation. These founding signatories helped build momentum ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, and thus far a total of 128 jurisdictions representing 28 countries and six continents have signed or endorsed the Under 2 MOU.

Photo credit: © Kevin Arnold

California is also leading the charge on market innovations to reduce emissions locally and globally. The state’s cap and trade program is the only greenhouse gas compliance program in existence that could provide positive incentives for tropical rain forest states to adopt forest protection programs and alter destructive rural development patterns that contribute to emissions. This week, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) held a public workshop to discuss including GHG reductions from tropical forests in California’s regulatory program. If approved, this action would make an important contribution to the global climate and benefit our state by reducing carbon pollution, thereby helping to regulate the climate, increasing the competitiveness of California industries by holding down costs for everyone, and helping maintain the state’s global leadership on climate action.

The outcome on the proposal to include tropical forests states in California’s regulatory program is uncertain at this point, but it is critical that it move forward. The future of federal climate initiatives is precarious; President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of his administration’s strategy to combat climate change, is tied up in court. Meanwhile, some candidates in the November presidential election continue to deny the science and overwhelming consensus that global warming is happening and that human activity is the primary cause.

The path forward is clear. Just as conservation and protection of California’s forests are essential to achieving the state’s ambitious climate goals, tropical rainforests must be part of the global climate solution. The delegates in Paris demonstrated international support for extensive emissions reduction programs that include protection of forests, and the signers in New York inked the deal. California has already taken some important steps to collaborate on global climate change initiatives, and now has the opportunity to again make meaningful progress by adding tropical forest protection into its climate program. In doing so, we will forge the way for the global community to follow.

Louis Blumberg, Director, California Climate Change Initiative, the Nature Conservancy

Photo: ©Marci Eggers/TNC

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