Arlington, Virginia (July 2, 2008) - Led by a bold commitment from Germany, leaders of the world's industrial powers have the opportunity at the upcoming G8 Summit in Japan to take immediate and substantive action against climate change.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent pledge of 500 million Euros over four years to conserve tropical forests, followed by increased annual spending on forest protection, starts to address a major source of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. As Chancellor Merkel notes, tropical forests are home to biological diversity and healthy ecosystems that strengthen Earth's resilience to global warming and help people adapt to the changing climate.
The burning and clearing of tropical forests contributes 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions - more than all the world's cars, trucks and airplanes combined. Emissions from deforestation, rather than industrial discharges, make developing countries Brazil and Indonesia two of the world's top four greenhouse gas polluters.
However, less than 1 percent of current investments in the global carbon market created by the Kyoto Protocol target forest-related solutions. Germany's G8 partners - the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Russia - can help correct that imbalance by making pledges similar to Merkel's and promoting forest conservation as an important and viable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Halting deforestation is an immediate and cost-effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions," said Peter Seligmann, the chairman and CEO of Conservation International (CI). "Solutions for climate change that don't include the conservation of carbon sinks such as tropical forests and oceans will fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent catastrophic impacts from rising global temperatures."
Tropical forests are home to more than half the species on Earth and harbor vital resources such as fresh water, food and medicines directly depended on by local communities, often the most vulnerable and poorest of society. These forests also serve as critical carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing the carbon in trees and soil.
Every year, tropical forest equal to an area the size of England is destroyed for conversion to agriculture, grazing or industrial use, biofuels production, and resource extraction such as logging and mining. Continuing this rampant deforestation will undermine progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors such as energy and transport. Researchers estimate that if deforestation rates in just Brazil and Indonesia continue at current levels, the resulting emissions could negate 80 percent of emissions reductions by industrialized countries expected under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 U.N. agreement to address climate change emissions.
Currently, the Kyoto agreement only recognizes carbon absorption by a replanted forest as eligible for carbon credits. In December 2007, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to also consider financial incentives for tropical countries that protect standing forests to prevent emissions from deforestation.
CI has launched a global campaign titled "Lost There, Felt Here" that promotes tropical forest conservation as a solution to climate change. The campaign, featuring a video by film legend Harrison Ford, delivers the central message that destroying tropical forests hurts everyone, no matter where they live. For example, New Zealand has recently accepted the first climate "refugees" from Kiribati and other Pacific island nations that are losing their land from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
As part of its overall climate change strategy, CI is supporting efforts by Liberia, Madagascar, Guyana and other developing governments to engage global climate change mechanisms such as the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the Adaptation Fund initially being run by the Global Environment Facility. CI also is developing forest carbon projects around the world that conserve carbon-storing forests and replant destroyed or degraded forests while benefiting local populations.
With other major issues on the G8 summit agenda - rising food prices, energy security, African development - directly linked to climate change, the meeting offers a chance for a holistic approach to fundamental challenges of our time. As the current G8 president and president of the Convention on Biodiversity's COP10 in 2010, host nation Japan bears a particular responsibility in providing global leadership on these issues.
"The world is finally starting to understand the essential role of tropical forests in maintaining a healthy planet. These forests sequester vast quantities of carbon, and also provide critical ecosystem services like clean water, harbor a major portion of the world's biodiversity, and are home to many of the world's remaining indigenous peoples," said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier. "Germany's leadership on forest conservation is a crucial step that should inspire other countries to make similar commitments. Decisive action to save forests can be the G8's most definitive and vital response so far to climate change."