Author Archives: Steve Schwartzman

A Blueprint for Advancing California’s Strong Leadership on Global Climate Change

A key reason California has become a global leader on climate change is its ability to successfully adopt the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s climate law that uses market-based tools to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels.

A group of tropical forest experts has now presented a blueprint for how California can secure significantly more reductions in global warming pollution than the law requires, while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop the catastrophe of tropical deforestation.

California is widely recognized as the major first mover in the United States on climate change, but tropical states and countries are making strong progress in stopping climate change, too. Brazil and Amazon states have reduced emissions from cutting and burning the Amazon forest by about 2.2 billion tons of carbon since 2005, making Brazil the world leader in curbing climate change pollution.

Research has shown that government policies played a big role in this major achievement. But so far this success in reducing deforestation has been entirely from government “command-and-control;” promised economic incentives for reducing deforestation haven’t materialized.  Pushback from ranchers against environmental law enforcement and the officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas that cover an area four times the size of California have weakened critical environmental legislation.

Brazil and the Amazon states will continue to reach their ambitious deforestation reduction targets, at least for the next few years, but deforestation rates recently appear to be edging upward.

California now has an opportunity to send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon – and ultimately elsewhere – can be worth more alive than dead by partnering with sustainable development leaders outside the United States.

Since state-wide, or “jurisdictional,” reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are large in scale and relatively low-cost, it’s critical that well-governed and effective pollution control programs from early movers, like the state of Acre, Brazil, are recognized by California’s carbon market. Ultimately, this can help California control costs, while giving these environmental leaders the sign they need to keep deforestation under control.

 

REDD Offsets Working Group report

The REDD Offsets Working Group (ROW), along with observers from the governments of California, Acre and Chiapas, Mexico, calls for the Golden State to allow limited amounts of carbon credits from Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) into its carbon market, but only from states that can show that they have reduced deforestation state-wide and below historical levels.

The ROW report: Recommendations to Conserve Tropical Rainforests, Protect Local Communities, and Reduce State-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions" recommends:

  • Partner states receive credit for a part of their demonstrated reductions only after showing they have succeeded in halting deforestation through their own efforts.
  • Free, prior and informed consent for local communities in REDD+ programs.
  • Adherence to internationally recognized standards for protection of indigenous and local peoples’ rights and participation in policy design in partner-state REDD+ programs.

REDD+ programs are especially important for indigenous and forest-based communities because these groups have historically protected forests, and typically want to continue doing so, but they have largely lacked access to markets, modern technology, quality health care and social services that REDD+ could help deliver. With California’s help, forest communities can achieve better economic opportunities and forest conservation.

Posted in Ecosystem Restoration, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets| Comments closed

California’s Carbon Market: A Potential Game-Changer in Slowing the Amazon’s Deforestation

California moved into the fast lane on the low-carbon development highway when it launched its carbon market this month. Now it has the opportunity to do even more to stop dangerous climate change while cutting the costs of controlling global warming pollution.  Recommendations from a group of experts on how Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) can come into California’s market show how.

In the world of greenhouse gas emissions, tropical deforestation is huge. Accounting for about 15% of these emissions globally, deforestation emits more than all cars, trucks, buses, trains and airplanes on the planet — combined.

When California launched its cap-and-trade program Jan.1, it created the second largest carbon market in the world. With REDD+, the Golden State now has another golden opportunity to expand its global environmental leadership even further.

The REDD+ Offsets Working Group (ROW) convened by California, the Brazilian state of Acre, and the Mexican state of Chiapas, has released recommendations for how California can bring REDD+ into its carbon market.  The ROW, in accordance with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act’s (AB32) guidance, recommends that California allow states or countries that reduce their total emissions from deforestation below an historical average, while maintaining or increasing the output of commodities like cattle and soy that drive deforestation, to generate compliance credit in California.

This “jurisdictional” approach is much like what California is doing – reducing state-wide emissions below a clearly measurable historical level.

The ROW also recommends requiring states to show that they have made their own efforts to reduce deforestation, beyond any reductions that they seek credit for and ensuring that local –particularly indigenous — communities participate in policy design, have a choice about whether or not to participate in programs, and benefit directly if they do.

Tropical states such as Acre and Chiapas that are moving forward on their own to reduce deforestation know that California’s market for international offsets is very limited, and don’t expect to get paid for most of the reductions they’ve made or can make.

But they need a signal, and California’s carbon market may now hold the key to the future of the forest.

Until recently, rampant deforestation in the Amazon was a big part of the global warming problem – and a disaster for the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of indigenous groups that live in the forests.  But when Brazil and Amazon states adopted new policies in 2005, all that began to change.

They ramped up law enforcement and started making large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, reducing their deforestation about 76% below the 1996 – 2005 average by 2012 (about 2.2 billion tons CO2) while increasing agricultural production and cattle herd. This came very close to the national target Brazil adopted — 80% reduction by 2020 — making it the world leader in emissions reductions.

Despite that progress – or maybe because of it – the Agriculture Caucus of the Brazilian Congress recently pushed for and won legislation weakening forest protection laws. The result? Although 2012 recorded the lowest deforestation on record, reports now say deforestation in the last five months has actually gone up in relation to 2011.

Creating demand for real, verifiable, additional REDD+ from jurisdictions that have solid social and environmental safeguards could be the sign the Amazon – and tropical jurisdictions around the world – need to know that REDD+ is real. Bringing it into California’s carbon market is an effective path to making that happen.

This blog is also cross-posted on the EDF Talks Global Climate Blog

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets| 1 Response, comments now closed

California policy makers must hear variety of indigenous voices on protecting tropical forests

This week, some U.S. NGOs are bringing a group of indigenous people from South America to talk with California policy makers about their opposition to REDD+, the idea that countries, states and communities that reduce carbon emissions from tropical deforestation should be eligible for compensation through carbon markets and public funds.

It’s good for policy makers to hear this perspective, but it’s critically important for these policy makers to hear the great diversity of indigenous voices on the REDD+ issue.

Having worked with indigenous peoples and minorities in the Amazon for over 20 years, in particular on helping indigenous peoples win the struggle for their lands, I’m glad that EDF actively supports indigenous and minority participation in international policy processes, whether or not given organizations or individuals agree with us.

Some NGOs have argued that REDD+ threatens indigenous land rights, that governments and NGOs are inducing indigenous communities to sign carbon contracts, that REDD+ will only benefit rich industrial polluters.

Earlier this year in the Amazon state of Acre, the Catholic Church missionary/indigenous rights organization, CIMI, made these arguments in an affidavit it sent to the Federal Prosecutors’ office, asking for the prosecutor to take legal action against the state System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA), under which Acre is formulating its REDD+ program.

Most of Acre’s indigenous peoples, however, do not agree with CIMI, as evidenced by this letter that leaders of the indigenous movement in the state sent to CIMI in response.

Indigenous leaders were dismayed to hear CIMI claimed that they were being manipulated into accepting carbon projects by the government and international NGOs, and pointed out that no one was forcing the indigenous organizations to do anything.

To the contrary, they noted that they are in the process of informing themselves and their communities so they can decide whether they want to participate in REDD+.  The letter makes an interesting contrast between the pros and cons:

“Both those in favor of and those against REDD must be serious and ethical in conveying correct information and establishing continued dialogue. Those in favor of REDD should not promote it as something that can resolve all the problems of our communities; those against it should not terrorize our peoples using western capitalism as a backdrop and creating a climate of distrust and fear based in suppositions and untruths.”

Beyond the borders of Acre, the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon basin (COICA) comprises the Amazon regional indigenous organizations of the nine Amazon nations. COICA has participated in the international climate negotiations since 2008.

The indigenous peoples’ caucus (including COICA) made this statement to the UNFCCC conference in Durban this year, covering a wide variety of issues including REDD+.

There are some 385 indigenous peoples, speaking about 300 languages, living in 2,344 territories that cover about 2.1 million km2 – an area four times the size of California – in the Amazon, as well as some 71 isolated groups. These peoples have maintained their distinct cultures and identities for thousands of years in the face of enormous, often violent, pressures – their difference unites them. Even the level of awareness of the idea of REDD+ varies enormously amongst them.

The NGOs and indigenous peoples visiting California this week offer one set of perspectives on REDD+, but their views should be considered in the context of the spectrum of indigenous organizations currently engaged on these issues, many of whom view REDD+ quite differently.

Posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets, Politics| 1 Response, comments now closed