Climate 411

Saving and restoring tropical forests has enormous value for the planet and the economy

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Neil Palmer (CIAT). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This post was authored by Sabine Fuss, Group Leader for Sustainable Resource Management and Global Change at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist at EDF, and Alexander Golub, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science at American University

The protection of tropical forests globally is indispensable for significantly increasing climate ambition in line with Paris Agreement goals as illustrated by a tremendous return on climate investment, according to our new article in the journal Global Sustainability.

Without dedicated efforts to protect tropical forests, tropical deforestation will contribute to the atmosphere on the order of 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions through the end of the century. Allowing this deforestation to occur would make the transition extremely difficult, requiring drastic immediate cuts in difficult-to-decarbonize sectors at high costs with no flexibility to allow benefitting from ongoing innovation and cost reductions. Unmitigated tropical deforestation would also put net zero emissions out of reach without large-scale deployment of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies, which would require an unanticipated ramp-up of new infrastructure pervaded by a diverse array of uncertainties.

Protecting and restoring tropical forests as envisioned under the international finance framework REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) thus provides the world with greater flexibility to implement deeper cuts in emissions. Other studies have also recognized the importance of REDD+ for climate stabilization, but ours goes a step further by determining the economic value that REDD+ can provide by enhancing global flexibility for reducing emissions.

For our study, we applied the widely used climate economics model DICE developed by US Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus. DICE shows the cost of achieving climate targets by using the most favourable mix of mitigation measures, but has so far not explicitly reflected the mitigation potential of tropical forest conservation. Our analysis incorporates more recent estimates from Jonah Busch and colleagues of the CO2 impacts of protecting and restoring tropical forests and of the direct opportunity costs of such activities, i.e. how much it would cost to forego the economic benefits of clearing or of allowing forests to regenerate – a key concern in many developing countries and often a strategic decision because of the large role that agricultural exports play in the economy.

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New program pays landowners to protect forests on their farms in Brazil

Join us during London Climate Action Week for the webinar Demonstrating on-the-ground incentives to protect forests in Mato Grosso, Brazil on November 16th, 11:30 am EST where we’ll be discussing this issue and more. Watch the recording here.

By Breno Pietracci, Ph.D., economist at Environmental Defense Fund

Many Brazilian farmers have large tracts of Amazon rainforest and Cerrado tropical savanna on their properties. According to the 2012 Brazilian Forest Code, landowners in the Amazon must maintain at least 80% of their farms as standing forests while those in the Cerrado must keep no less than 35%. Farmers have the right to clear all vegetation above these legal thresholds.

But what if over-compliant farmers were financially rewarded to keep those forests they can legally deforest alive? That’s the aim of CONSERV, a novel and groundbreaking forest protection program recently launched in Brazil, with international debut scheduled for the London Climate Action Week. CONSERV is a systemic, scalable initiative that constitutes part of a set of strategies that can reduce deforestation at a jurisdictional (national or state-level) scale.

Brazil has successfully reduced deforestation by deploying an arsenal of command-and-control forest conservation policies over the last decades. From 2004 to 2012, deforestation in the Legal Amazon fell by more than 80% with a combination of increased law enforcement, expansion of protected areas – indigenous territories and conservation units, rural credit reforms and supply chain initiatives. Such remarkable achievement has mainly relied upon using “sticks” (penalties) and only limited “carrots” (incentives).

Over those years, some multilateral programs have attempted to use incentive-based payments for performance in reducing deforestation at large scales, namely the Amazon Fund and the REDD+ Early Movers program in the states of Acre and Mato Grosso. However, these have not yet been deployed at a scale to significantly change the behavior of rural producers.

As few positive incentives have materialized in the effort to reduce Amazon deforestation in Brazil, since 2013 the gains in preventing deforestation have stalled and are now under threat with weakened command-and-control and law enforcement. CONSERV is a first step in providing the missing positive incentive piece of the equation.

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Also posted in Brazil, Forest protection, International / Comments are closed

As Amazon deforestation rises, so does the need for urgent action

Deforestation in the Amazon. iStock.

The year 2020 was expected to be a “super year” for global action on climate change. Instead, it’s become an “extraordinary year” for a global community trying to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst this backdrop, deforestation throughout the Amazon has been rising steadily, jumping 55% in the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period last year. This is no coincidence. Loggers, miners, land-grabbers and individuals clearing land for soy and livestock are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to illegally clear the forest.

Enforcement of forest protection was already severely weakened across the Amazon, due in part to anti-environmental leadership and rhetoric, such as that of President Bolsonaro in Brazil. The virus has forced many of the field agents responsible for keeping forest invaders out to retreat, making it virtually impossible to enforce environmental laws and leaving these areas open to destruction. As we enter fire season, deforestation could get much worse due to warmer than average sea surface temperatures which could exacerbate the spread of fires. It all makes for a “perfect storm” that is threatening the Amazon forest and is already having disastrous impacts on the Indigenous communities who depend on forests.

Increased deforestation will jeopardize the rainforest’s rich biodiversity and extensive carbon stocks. It’s pushing the Amazon closer to the tipping point where deforestation will be irreversible. And it’s hindering global climate change mitigation efforts.

If the global community is going to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, the New York Declaration on Forests and other frameworks, then countries and companies need to prioritize forest protection.

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Also posted in Brazil, Forest protection, Indigenous People, International, Jobs / Comments are closed

Firms can manage climate policy uncertainty. Here’s how.

shutterstock_194915288

Shutterstock

This post was authored by Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist at EDF, and Alexander Golub, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science at American University.

For companies that are large emitters of greenhouse gases, uncertainty about policies to address climate change can be a real challenge. But our new paper in the journal Energy shows how companies that invest now in a novel approach to climate mitigation could help manage their risk of future policy obligations more effectively and at a lower cost.

The challenge

In Energy, we demonstrate how policy uncertainty puts greenhouse gas emitting companies in a bind, raising risks for these companies and making it likely that carbon prices—an indicator of costs—will rise in a series of sudden bursts, rather than following a smooth transition.

Policy uncertainty discourages private investment in low-carbon technologies. However, when credible climate policy is finally in place, industry will have missed out on prudent investment opportunities and face spiking costs as they rush to catch up with tightened emissions controls requirements.

In the paper, we show that companies have a latent demand for suitable strategies that can help manage these risks.

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As 2020 approaches, the climate action spotlight is on forests

Amazon Canopy. Warwick Lister-Kaye / istockphoto.com.

With 2020 fast approaching, countries, companies, and other stakeholders are taking stock of their climate commitments. As they consider ways to meet and enhance climate goals, interest in net zero emissions commitments and carbon removal technologies has grown. But what these discussions reveal is that forests are crucial. Capable of significantly reducing net emissions at a low marginal cost, and in the short-term, forests are an important piece of the climate change mitigation puzzle.

This year, tropical forests have dominated the spotlight. The forest fires raging throughout Brazil, Bolivia, and Indonesia are part of a disturbing trend: despite commitments from governments and companies, deforestation is still on the rise globally. Key forest ecosystems such as the Amazon continue to face the pressures of crop expansion for agricultural production, illegal extractive activities like timber harvesting and mining, relaxed legal enforcement and weakened environmental policies.

As deforestation persists, the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon pollution diminishes and more carbon is being released; tree cover loss in tropical forests accounts for about 16 to 33 percent of global emissions. We should be alarmed. But we should also be hopeful. Here are a few reasons why:

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Also posted in California, Carbon Markets, Forest protection, International, Paris Agreement, United Nations / Comments are closed

What ProPublica’s forest carbon credits story still gets wrong – and right (with update)

By Steve Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy, and Christina McCain, Director, Latin America

Amazon Canopy. Warwick Lister-Kaye / istockphoto.com.

***Please read on for our response to ProPublica’s follow-up article***

ProPublica’s recent piece An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth is a deeply reported story on very real problems – and even bigger potential problems – with offset projects in existing and emerging carbon markets. But the evidence the article lays out does not support its conclusion about forest carbon crediting. And readers might come away without understanding that protecting forests, including through forest carbon credits, is one of the most important solutions to climate change out there, and the planet can’t afford to dismiss this opportunity to solve the climate crisis.

Missing: The critical distinction between individual “projects” and large-scale, state-level programs to reduce deforestation

It’s not news that bad carbon credits won’t solve climate change. Lots of studies have shown that there are all kinds of bad offset projects, and definitely not just forest projects. But today’s jurisdictional forest credits aren’t your parents’ forest project offsets: they’re real emissions reductions. Though you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the ProPublica story.

The ProPublica piece fails to distinguish large-scale national or provincial programs to reduce emissions from deforestation – known as “jurisdictional” programs – from one-off, small “projects” to reduce deforestation. ProPublica’s implication that old projects had failings and therefore now so must contemporary jurisdictional programs, is like saying flip phones had all sorts of problems, so all cell phones must be unreliable and we should shun smartphones.  Read More »

Also posted in Brazil, California, Carbon Markets, Forest protection, Indigenous People, Paris Agreement, United Nations / Read 5 Responses