Two themes are emerging from the second Governors’ Global Climate Summit in California: "Copenhagen, can you hear us now?" and "Don’t leave out the forests this time".
This week’s summit seems intent on building on the success of last year’s international agreement on forest protection, starting with a push from the host state.
First, Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest private forest owner in California, announced a major agreement Wednesday to create the nation’s largest carbon sequestration project, expected to cover 60,000 acres and sequester 1.5 million tons of CO2, equivalent to taking some 300,000 cars off the road for a year.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger credited the California Air Resources Board with clearing the way for the Sierra Pacific project when it recently adopted the Forest Project Protocol 3.0 — a set of guidelines establishing accounting rules for determining the climate benefits of forest carbon sequestration projects. The protocol removes a requirement for conservation easements and opens up the voluntary offsets market to private landowners, public lands and out-of-state projects.
“This agreement and the partnerships formed at this summit will help people around the world reduce the 20 percent of global warming emissions that come from deforestation,” Schwarzenegger said.
California EPA Secretary Linda Adams made another important move to preserve forests, signing a Statement of Intent on Wednesday to implement and support forest management and reforestation practices for the forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental States of Mexico and Michoacán.
The collaborative, trans-border approach aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support the forests’ vital ecological and economic functions and protect the Monarch Butterfly. The statement was also signed by the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources of the United Mexican States (SEMARNAT), the California Environmental Protection Agency, the Climate Action Reserve and ECOLIFE Foundation.
“Forests play a vital role in local ecosystems and community welfare. SEMARNAT also recognizes that government agencies play critical roles in addressing climate change and supporting the Monarch Butterfly. We are pleased to enter into an innovative agreement that is designed to protect the forests, butterflies and local communities,” said Adrián Fernandez Bermauntz, president of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology.
Forests absorb about one-sixth of the carbon pollution in the atmosphere, serving as valuable carbon sinks. The vast Amazon Rainforest — dubbed the "Lungs of Our Planet" for its continuous recycling of carbon dioxide into oxygen — produces more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. But deforestation has cut rainforest cover from 14 percent of the earth’s land surface to a mere 6 percent, according to Save the Amazon.
The critical roles that forests play in Earth’s climate was the theme of a side event at UCLA featuring Brazil’s delegation discussion Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), a UN program that would give people in developing countries a financial incentive to preserve their forests and reduce the world’s carbon emissions. Environmental advocates have some concerns about abuse of a REDD system, but it is politically popular.
Osvaldo Stella, Climate Change Coordinator for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, described one forest preservation project involving 350 small producer families involved in protecting an area of more than 31,000 hectares.
The program costs about $12 million over a 10-year period, which includes $5 million in opportunity costs and $6 million in transition costs paid to the families. The results: a reduction of 3.2 million tons of CO2 at a cost of about $4 a ton. A ton of CO2 is currently going for about $20 on the open market, making this very cheap carbon reductions, Stella explained.
Two other speakers, Manoel Silva da Cunha, president of Brazil’s
National Council of Rubbertappers, and Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, General Coordinator for the Metareila Association of Surui Indigenous People, expressed frustration with the Brazilian national government. Under a business as usual scenario, explained Silva da Cunha, 2.7 billion and as many as 3.4 billion tons of CO2 will be emitted from deforestation by 2050.
All three agreed that the federal government must get involved, but in the right way. In 2001, Stella explained, the government gave grants for cattle ranching leading to a big spike in deforestation and the Brazilian government has historically fought incentives for forest preservation. They also said forest maintenance must be economically beneficial and involves local and indigenous populations in the conservation efforts.
However, preservation ultimately depends on social and economic sustainability, Silva da Cunha said. And that will take policy, funding and cooperation to insure. The kind of cooperation that Schwarzenegger and others are hoping will come out of this week’s summit and move the ball forward going into Copenhagen.