The climate bill introduced into the U.S. Senate last week has reduced funding for forest conservation and reforestation efforts around the world.
An earlier version of the climate bill passed by the House of Representatives had reserved five percent of the cap and trade earnings for forest conservation and replenishment programs. This provision would have allowed the US government to reduce burden on the big emitters like utilities and manufacturing industries. Financing efforts of reforestation in developing and poor countries would have helped the US achieve its carbon emissions reduction target.
Many developed countries including the United Kingdom and Norway have similar plans wherein their governments finance forest conservation programs in the tropical forests of Africa, South-east Asia and South America. Congo, Indonesia and Brazil have received billions of dollars under these funding initiatives. The 'five percent for forests' provision would have released $3 to 5 billion dollars per year for reforestation programs across the world.
While financing forest conservation projects in other countries is one of the cheapest methods of achieving carbon emission reductions, many green activists may call it 'outsourcing' of emission reduction commitments. The United States is committed to reduce its carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from base year 2005 which is actually lesser than what other developed countries have committed to with a base year of 1990.
Being the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and having one of the largest per capita emissions, does the United States has the moral responsibility of reducing its carbon emissions in absolute terms? While the utilities and some green groups want this clause included in the bill, it would be worthwhile to see if its omission would really make any difference.
The reduction in funding would mean availability of $3 to 5 billion per year which can be used for developing affordable renewable energy technologies, improving efficiencies of the existing technologies, making the existing power grid compatible with renewable energy resources, setting up more large scale power plants or providing consumers energy subsidies to promote clean energy. It would also mean lesser carbon emissions being put into the atmosphere in the first place — cutting emissions at the source.
During the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December, leaders from around the world recognized the role of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in the global endeavor to reduce carbon emissions. The leaders also agreed that developed countries would provide funding to developing and poor countries to aid them in forest conservation programs. Funding for these projects would be drawn from the $30 billion the developed countries are required to provide by the year 2012.
So even in the absence of a clause to aid the reforestation projects in the Climate Bill, it is obvious that the US government would have to contribute to the REDD fund. This would ensure that the US companies make real and absolute reductions in their carbon footprints and that the US achieves substantial overall carbon emission reductions. The only problem for the US would be to find an additional source of funding to meet its commitments towards the REDD program.
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.