Monthly Archives: March 2010

Global Deforestation Slowing, but Much More Needs to Be Done

This post was co-authored by Director of Tropical Forest Policy Steve Schwartzman and International Climate Change Policy Analyst Gus Silva-Chavez.


Deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of the man-man carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. (Photo: A.S. Zain/Shutterstock)

The latest global deforestation estimate from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that deforestation rates slowed from 2000 – 2010 relative to the 1990s. The UN News Centre says:

Between 2000 and 2010, some 13 million hectares of forests were converted annually to other uses, such as agriculture, or lost through natural causes, down from 16 million hectares per year during the 1990s, according to the assessment which surveyed 233 countries and areas.

This is welcome news, and is in part due to Brazil’s major efforts to slow its slash and burn juggernaut.  But deforestation still puts more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere than the global transportation sector.  Much more needs to be done to get a handle on the problem.

Brazil is a good example of how to do that; deforestation is way down from the 2004 peak, and the country now has a national economy-wide emissions reductions target (including an 80% reduction in Amazon deforestation by 2020) that is federal law.  Brazil has become a world leader on climate change.  Federal and state governments are cracking down on the lawless frontier, and companies are increasingly unwilling to buy beef and soy from newly cleared lands.

But the large-scale positive incentives to reward forest conservation and sustainable land uses are not yet in place.  For this trend to last when commodity prices go up (as they inevitably will), we need a price signal from the carbon market to make living forests worth as much or more than dead ones: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

The U.S. Senate continues to put together the pieces of its climate bill, and just this week a group of environmental, industry, agricultural and forestry groups called for offsets and REDD to be included in the Senate package.

At the UN level, negotiations on REDD will continue this year.  The efforts at the international and U.S. level are exactly the types of strong signals that are vital to ensuring that the declining trend for deforestation continues.  EDF believes that if REDD is made a reality and successfully implemented, the signal for forest protection will lead to lower and lower emissions in coming years.

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Ag, Forestry Groups Urge Senators to Include REDD in Climate Bill

You can add two more important stakeholders — and unusual allies — to the growing list calling for the Senate to include strong Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) provisions in their bill: agriculture and forestry groups.


Advertisement from the Ohio Corn Growers Association and Avoided Deforestation Partners

In a letter this week to the drafters of current climate legislation for the Senate, 31 businesses, agriculture groups, and environmental organizations (including EDF) asked for the bill to include agriculture and forest provisions.

REDD can help address the serious worldwide deforestation problem, the letter to Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, says,

while helping keep energy costs affordable for U.S. agriculture, forest products industries, and consumers. Protecting these forests will also help level the playing field for U.S. agriculture and forest products industries by reducing illegal logging and forest conversion in tropical countries, ensuring fair competition in wood, pulp, beef, leather, soybeans, and other global markets.

Also this week one of our partner coalitions, Avoided Deforestation Partners, joined with the Ohio Corn Growers Association in placing ads in the Washington Post: “Tropical Rainforests: A Climate Solution for American Agriculture” and “Want to Protect Farms and Ranchers Here?  Protect forests there.” You can see the online version for the rest of the week on the Washington Post’s Post Carbon blog, or view the print ad at

So how did we reach the conclusion that farms and forests are critical to solving the climate crisis?  EDF was a pioneer in the simple idea that if we could change the status quo and incentivize forest protection instead of forest destruction, we could reduce the estimated 15% of emissions that come from deforestation in the tropics.  This idea has already received a lot of attention at the international climate negotiations and robust REDD provisions that we championed were included in the climate bill that the House of Representatives passed last June.

Read more about the letter in The Hill’s E2 Wire blog and PointCarbon (subscription required), and find the full letter here.  I also encourage you to watch a video that AD Partners produced on how protecting rainforests can benefit US farmers.

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IPCC is right: Amazon still at risk from drought, global warming

It’s been difficult to avoid the coverage in the media about the holes being poked in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  But the latest attack, this one on the part of the report that says drought can be very damaging to the Amazon forest, gets it blatantly wrong.

The Amazon forest, the largest remaining tropical forest in the world and home to enormous biological and cultural diversity, stores about 100 billion tons of carbon.  In recent decades, the Amazon has become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, as clearing forest for agriculture and cattle ranching have increased. Globally, emissions from deforestation now account for about 15% of total global emissions annually — more than all emissions from transportation worldwide — and between 2000 and 2005, 60% of the deforestation in the world happened in the Amazon.

Since the mid-1990s, scientists have observed that in dry years, particularly El Niño years, forest regions that were always too moist to burn have been catching fire, killing trees and increasing carbon emissions . Most climate change models predict that unless global greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced in coming years, forest in a large part of the southern and eastern Amazon risks large-scale dieback, releasing large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere and replacing the forest with savanna.

A new study lead by the World Bank, which includes experts from five international modeling groups and is independently reviewed by a blue-ribbon panel of international scientists, confirms these results.  The group looked at the effects of climate change, deforestation, and fires under different global emissions trajectories and found that if fossil fuels remain predominant in the global energy matrix, and deforestation attains 20% of the Amazon biome (it’s currently at 17%), 40% of the rainforest would be lost by 2025. And by 2100, climate change alone would reduce the Amazon forest by two-thirds.  In other words, the Amazon appears to be approaching a tipping point, after which large part of the ecosystem could collapse.

People I talk to who live in the Amazon forest, like rubber tapper leader Manoel Cunha and indigenous Chief Almir Surui, say they are already seeing the effects of climate change. Important forest species no longer flower or give fruit in the same season they previously did, droughts bring out-of-control forest fires, and rains fall out of season.  They are worried about the future of the forests they depend on for their livelihoods.

It is then, in this light, stunningly poor judgment that Boston University issued a sensationalistic press release misrepresenting a recent scientific article by BU scientists Samanta et al. in Geophysical Research Letters as discrediting an IPCC statement on the Amazon and climate change.

In the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Samanta et al, used satellite data to check earlier findings that the Amazon got greener during the 2005 drought, rather than browner, as was expected.  They found that those previous results could not be replicated using an improved data set and that the Amazon in 2005 was neither greener nor browner than in non-drought years, so the previous results were incorrect.  The article’s conclusion – that the old study didn’t really show that the Amazon is more resistant to drought than people thought is actually a solid contribution to the remote sensing literature on forest carbon cycles.

It’s not clear how we got from here to the conclusion reported in the press and across the blogosphere that the study shows that the IPCC was wrong — but it wasn’t by using logic or science. Boston University’s recent press release titled “New study debunks myths about Amazon rain forests”, claims that Samanta et al.’s article disproves the IPCC’s affirmation that large part of the Amazon is drought sensitive.  But the article does nothing of the kind.

The article does not address any of the field surveys on the effects of drought that found greatly increased tree mortality, or large-scale rainfall exclusion experiments showing the same effects, or any of the modeling results. It does not consider that what happened in a single drought year may be much less important than what could happen with increasingly frequent droughts. It does not raise the mutually reinforcing effects of climate change, reduced rainfall, deforestation and fires. It does show that one series of data from one, mid-resolution satellite sensor, didn’t detect any measurable difference in the spectral signature of Amazon trees during one drought year.

One positive that has come out of the press release’s drastic mischaracterization of Semanta et al.’s article and corresponding news coverage is the quality conversations incited about the findings in the IPCC report.  I’ll conclude with a portion of a statement yesterday by 19 leading scientists who conduct research on Amazon forests, climate, and/ or fire released, which called the BU press release “misleading and inaccurate”.

There are multiple, consistent lines of evidence from ground-based studies published in the peer-reviewed literature that Amazon forests are, indeed, very susceptible to drought stress… [and] the main conclusion of the IPCC statement – that Amazonian forests are very susceptible to reductions in rainfall – remains our best understanding of the data available at the time of the IPCC report and also today.

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Tropical forest alliance agrees on key principles for U.S. policy

A broad alliance of business, science and non-profit groups has reached a landmark agreement on principles for tropical forest protection in U.S. climate policies – thanks in part to the pioneering work of EDF.

The alliance – the Tropical Forests and Climate Coalition – just launched its first web site, where visitors can read the principles, known as the Tropical Forest Climate Unity Agreement.

Tropical forest destruction causes nearly a fifth of all global warming pollution, and yet it does little to raise living standards for so many of the people who live in these regions. That makes curbing deforestation one of the best, fastest and most cost-effective ways to start lowering global warming pollution worldwide.

It's a win-win situation if U.S. climate policies help tropical forest nations reduce deforestation and let U.S. companies use high-quality forest offset credits to cut carbon pollution. Everyone wins by finding that sweet spot where global emissions decline rapidly and affordably – and that's what the TFCC alliance is all about.

EDF helped get the ball rolling three years ago when it became a founding member of a business-NGO coalition called the Forest Carbon Dialogue. The FCD was a key player in forging the new TFCC alliance. Check out the TFCC site to keep up with the latest on tropical forest protection policies and news.

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