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Climate & Energy
Water
Forests
Communities
Policy
People, Forests & Climate Change
Bruce Cabarle and Tom Martin

The recent agreement between President Obama and his counterpart President Xi Jinping to substantially reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions in the world’s two largest economies raises the heat on all other countries to take climate change more seriously.1 This comes on the heels of more than 400,000 people who poured out into the streets of New York City in September for the People’s Climate March prior to the United Nation’s Climate Summit. At the Summit, heads of state, industry titans,movie stars, and people from all walks of life took to the floor of the United Nation’s General Assembly and made passionate pleads for climate sanity. One of the more hopeful outcomes is the New York Declaration on Forests & Action Agenda, which sets an ambitious goal to halt the loss of natural forests by 2030, starting by halving the rate of global deforestation by the year 2020, and restoring an additional 350 million hectares (865 million acres, or five times the size of Texas) of degraded forest landscapes by improving governance and mobilizing the required financing.2 The US-China GHG emission reduction targets are sure to bring a renewed focus on reducing deforestation and restoring degraded landscapes by planting trees as two of the most cost-effective solutions available to mitigate climate change while also producing other environmental, livelihood, and security benefits for local families and their communities.

A deforested hillside in Rio de Janeiro Forests play a vital role in the Earth’s climate as a vast sponge that continuously absorbs a substantial amount of carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. But forests are also a source of roughly one fifth of global carbon emissions from the conversion of forests to agriculture and urban sprawl. The emissions from deforestation are equal to that from all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world— many of which are moving consumer goods that contain palm oil, soy, beef, leather, pulp, paper and other wood commodities produced at the expense of illegal forest clearing.3

What separates the New York Declaration on Forests from past manifestos is the rainbow coalition of supporters— over 30 countries (including the US), 40 multi-national companies, as well as a number of well-known indigenous peoples and civil society organizations. Cargill—America’s largest agricultural commodity processor— made a commitment to extend its “deforestation-free” pledge on palm oil and soy to cover every commodity processed by the company.4 This groundswell of commitments to address the age-old challenge of deforestation, and its more recently recognized pivotal role in climate change, is encouraging. But this stands in stark contrast to the impasse between the world’s major economies —notably the US, China, European Union and India—to agree on how deep and fast to curb fossil fuel emissions driving climate change and transition to a low-carbon energy future.However, conservation of forests has emerged as a critical step that all parties can agree on, particularly in the tropics where we lose 13 million hectares of forest every year—or 36 football fields of forest every minute.5

Forests are important to the US Climate Action Plan, which after the agreement with China, increases the US target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020. The total amount of carbon stored in forest lands and wood products (such as homes and furniture) equals roughly 25 years worth of total US greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that our forests and wood products have absorbed about 16 percent of total annual US emissions from the burning of fossil fuels over the past two decades. The amount of carbon stored in wood products alone is roughly the same as the annual US emissions from more than eighteen 500 MW coal fired power plants. Forests are also an important source of plant-based material to produce energy; this bioenergy currently comprises about 28% of the US renewable energy supply. The projected potential for forest bioenergy ranges from 3% to 5% of total current US energy consumption.6 Looking forward, US forests have the potential to capture and store about 225 million tons of additional carbon per year through to the beginning of the next century.7 However, this vast carbon sink could also become a significant source of emissions if not managed wisely. More than half of US forests are threatened by wildfires, urban development, invasive species, insects and disease. These risks may also be exacerbated by significant changes in species composition and productivity due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns as a result of climate change.8
Keith Ramos, USFWS

The Forest-Climate Working Group9 representing a broad cross-section of the US forest sector— landowner, industry, conservation, wildlife, carbon finance, and forestry organizations—produced a 6-step action plan for the nation’s forests in support of the US Climate Action Plan:
  1. Provide sound data and science; prioritize information and tools to continue development of climate-informed strategies. 
  2. Promote forest products; strengthen markets for wood over less environmentally friendly materials.
  3. Restore and manage private forests; support private land owners to implement management practices and increase preparedness.
  4. Retain existing forests; prevent forests from being developed through the encouragement of permanent protection, carbon storage incentives, and strong forest product markets.
  5. Develop landscape-scale conservation approaches; encourage collaboration to view forests as systems instead of individual disjointed properties.
  6. Increase urban forests; promote programs that support increasing the urban forest canopy.
The families, individuals, companies, and tribes who own close to 60 percent of the US forests will be critical to realizing this potential; they will need to reap the benefits for providing this public environmental service and be insured against the risks. If we can make this vision for the world’s forests a reality, then we may be able to bring many more in step with the march for climate justice.

Bruce Cabarle is President of Concentric Sustainability Solutions, LLC in Falls Church, VA. Tom Martin is the President & CEO of the American Forest Foundation in Washington, DC.

References
1 http://grist.org/climate-energy/new-u-schina-climate-deal-is-a-game-changer/

2 http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/09/FORESTS-New-York-Declaration-on-Forests.pdf

3 Consumer Goods and Deforestation. http://www.forest-trends.org/illegaldeforestation.php

4 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/business/energy-environment/passing-the-baton- in-climate-change-efforts.html

5 UN FAO. 2010. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/45904/icode/

6 National Climate Assessment. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/forests

7 be EPA, 2013: Annex 3.12. Methodology for estimating net carbon stock changes in forest land remaining forest lands.Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011. EPA 430-R-13-001,, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, A-2

8 US Forest Service. 2010. RPA Assessment.

9 http://www.naufrp.org/pdf/FCWG%202013%20Policy%20Recommendations.pdf
 
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