Bipartisan panel's Purvis lays out recommendations for U.S. on deforestation

Earlier this year, the bipartisan Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests launched in hopes of raising awareness about the role that forests can play in slowing climate change. The commission is co-chaired by Center for American Progress President John Podesta and former Senator Lincoln Chafee. During today's OnPoint, Nigel Purvis, executive director of the commission and president of Climate Advisers, discusses new recommendations for the Obama administration and Congress on how best to address greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. The recommendations, laid out in the commission's new report, "Protecting the Climate Forests," urge the United States to take a leading role in halving emissions from tropical forest destruction within a decade. Purvis also explains how action on deforestation will play into the Copenhagen talks.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Nigel Purvis, president of Climate Advisers and currently serving as the executive director of the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests. Nigel, thanks for coming back on the show.

Nigel Purvis: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Nigel, the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests was launched earlier this year in hopes of raising awareness about the role that forests can play in slowing climate change. You've just released a set of recommendations for the Obama administration and for Congress. Why is this such an important issue to be addressing now as the Senate begins deliberations on climate legislation?

Nigel Purvis: So, tropical deforestation accounts for 17 percent of global emissions and these are emissions that we have the ability to reduce now, no new technologies are required. What the United States needs to do in partnership with other countries is to create a global partnership to reduce these emissions which we can reduce cost effectively, affordably in the near term giving us time to develop the technologies in the energy economy that we'll need to solve the longer-term climate problem.

Monica Trauzzi: Is enough attention being paid to the forest issue on the domestic front? I mean how confident are you that something like this will make its way into policy?

Nigel Purvis: Well, the reason this bipartisan group of foreign policy, national security, business, conservation, and labor leaders came together is to raise the awareness of the policy community in the United States about the opportunities for leadership and the opportunities for cost savings and advancing broader U.S. foreign-policy objectives through action in the forest sector. Really, the debate has not tended to focus on this aspect of the problem. People are rightly focused on the need to transform the global energy market, the global energy economy. But we have an opportunity for large-scale, near-term, affordable action here and we absolutely need to seize it in order to give us time to deal with the rest of the problem.

Monica Trauzzi: And the commission is calling on the U.S. to take the leading role in all of this, in having emissions from tropical forest destruction within the next decade. Why is the U.S. ideal for leading this effort?

Nigel Purvis: So, obviously, this is something that needs to be done in cooperation with developing countries where these forests are. Fortunately, many developing countries are interested in a global partnership and looking for the U.S. to help lead developed countries into that collaborative effort. It's really important to address these emissions now because in order to get on the kind of a long-term emission reduction pathway that the world community agreed to at the major economies forum earlier this year or that the G-8 leaders have called for and that is likely to be the basis of a global climate agreement that may emerge from the Copenhagen process. In order to achieve that ambitious reduction of 50 percent of global emissions by 2050 we need to act promptly and quickly in the forest sector because these forests are disappearing quickly and also because this is the area where we can act in a manner that will allow us to reduce emissions quickly, but at low cost.

Monica Trauzzi: So how do we make this happen? Is this just about injecting money into this discussion?

Nigel Purvis: Well, the U.S. needs to bring a lot to the table. We have a strong bipartisan tradition in this country for forest conservation and for international efforts to conserve forests. Colin Powell helped launch the Congo Basin Initiative. Republican Congressman Rob Portman, when he was in Congress, co-authored the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. This is an area where Republicans and Democrats have had a common perspective that protecting forests protects American interests. We can bring our know-how, we can bring that strong political support, but we can also bring financing, which is essential because we're asking these countries to forgo the opportunity that we and other developed countries had to convert their forests to productive, economically productive farmlands and grazing lands for the sake of a global goal, which is to protect the climate. And in order to fundamentally transform their forest sectors to provide new incentives to local landowners they're going to need that kind of economic incentive.

Monica Trauzzi: So, is there a net benefit for the U.S. specifically to lead on this?

Nigel Purvis: Absolutely. So, as I said, these are some of the most cost-effective emission reductions that are out there globally. And, in fact, if you look at the Environmental Protection Agency's analysis of the climate bill that came out of the House of Representatives the opportunity for the U.S. firms to get credit for international emission reductions through purchase of international offsets as they're known that reduce the permit price in that bill by 89 percent from what it would have been without those international offsets. EPA's analysis also shows that the majority, in fact, close to 60 percent of those international offsets would come from tropical forests. Those cost savings lead to about a $50 billion savings for the United States economy between 2012 and 2020. So, it's absolutely vital to our economic self interest to be partnering with developing countries to help them achieve what is now their objective, which is reducing deforestation.

Monica Trauzzi: What role is the commission playing in publicizing these issues and as you're out there talking about this report, this topic, are you finding that there's a certain learning curve when it comes to this topic?

Nigel Purvis: Well, we're finding that people understand that forests are contributing to the climate problem and that they're eager to learn more about the opportunities for leadership, the opportunities for action. They're interested when they hear that countries like Brazil and Indonesia and other rain forest nations are actively developing national plans to aggressively reduce their own emissions under their own domestic legislation. Brazil, for example, has adopted the goal of reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent by 2020. That's a staggering contribution to the global effort to protect the climate, if they're able to do that. And, fortunately, since the peak year of about 2005, emissions are already down quite substantially showing that they have the political will, they have the ability to really mobilize action on a large scale. We're finding that policy makers here are eager to hear about that. They're looking for evidence that developing countries want to be part of the solution and they're looking for ways of making U.S. climate action affordable and, therefore, there's a lot of interest.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. Beyond the domestic discussions, how should the international community be taking this up in the discussions that are happening there?

Nigel Purvis: Well, there's no easy area of climate policy and that's true of global climate negotiations, but what we're seeing is that the opportunity for progress in the Copenhagen negotiations are perhaps greatest in this area of forestry where, unlike the Kyoto timeframe when developing countries were saying you go first to the industrialized world, here, in the forest area we have these forest rich nations who are asking to be able to take action. They're asking to be part of this system and that's really positive so that there's an opportunity to create a new system that involves action by all the major emitters, where developed countries are assisting developing countries through technical assistance as well as new financial incentives to make it possible for them to restructure their forest economies. So I expect that internationally this will be one of the bright points in the Copenhagen negotiations and an opportunity for real breakthrough.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show again.

Nigel Purvis: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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