Last month in New York City, world leaders from government, business and non-governmental organizations gathered at the UN Climate Summit to discuss key issues and strategies for addressing climate change. Over 300,000 people hit the streets of New York demanding strong action on climate (including Dogwood Alliance staff and board members).
With so much attention here in the US rightfully directed towards the fossil fuel industry, it was encouraging to see forests emerge as a major point of focus with the release of the New York Declaration on Forests.
Let’s hope that the momentum carries through to December when the UN convenes the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru.
Since launching the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign last year, I have been scratching my head in disbelief about the contradiction that exists when it comes to global forest climate policies. Over recent years, there has been a suite of initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions from forest loss and degradation, which admittedly accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions. As part of the New York Declaration of Forests, three European nations – UK, Norway and Germany – announced increased global funding for reducing deforestation and increasing forest conservation.
On the other hand, recent energy policies treat the logging and burning of forests to generate electricity as a climate friendly alternative to fossil fuels despite how much forest carbon it releases into the atmosphere.
Mounting scientific evidence contradicts this assumption, concluding that burning trees from cleared forests is as bad as or worse than fossil fuels.
What adds to the absurdity is that many of the European nations supporting the Declaration on Forests released in New York, led by the UK, are also heavily subsidizing burning forests for electricity.
Maybe the New York Declaration on Forests will mark a turning point. After all, the aggressive goals to stop deforestation and forest degradation are right on target and can have a major positive impact.
Intact, healthy forests provide one of our very best defenses against climate change.
Not only do they have the power to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, but they purify and protect drinking water, prevent floods and provide critical habitat for 80% of the world’s terrestrial species.
The declaration reinforces that we can no longer view forest protection as a luxury or charity.
It rightfully suggests that we must start treating the scale up of forest protection as being just as important as transitioning away from fossil fuels.
But, if world leaders keep ignoring the flawed global energy policies that erroneously treat the logging of forests for fuel as a path to reducing carbon emissions so that forests become a primary fuel source for generating electricity around the world, we are in big trouble. And right now, the world is on a path to do just that.
Here in the Southern US, the world’s largest wood producing region, the stark contradictions in global forest climate policies are evident on the ground. As European utilities strive to meet “renewable” energy targets, massive government subsidies have funded the conversion of big coal plants to wood.
Our region, already the world’s largest wood producing region, has now stepped up to become the world’s number one exporter of wood pellets as fuel for electricity.
In just the past three years, wood pellet exports from the Southern US to Europe have gone from almost nothing to nearly 3 million tons a year. And if current policies driving this market continue, wood pellet exports from this region could double in annual volume to over 6 million tons a year by 2016. The clearcutting and degradation of wetland forests along the coast of the Southern US – a resource already under stress – to supply this booming new market for wood has been well documented.
The expansion currently underway by the South’s largest wood pellet exporter, Enviva, is estimated to impact millions of acres of forests over the next 20 years. Plans by a plethora of other companies to build dozens of other wood pellet facilities have been announced, magnifying the threat to our forests.
In direct contrast, good faith efforts designed to protect forests as carbon sinks struggle to find the capital and market value necessary for meaningful scale-up. Despite all the policies intended to help fund the protection of forests, it just doesn’t pay to leave trees in the woods. The bottom-line?
Our global economy continues to value forest destruction over forest protection. Forests logged are valued more than forests standing.
This paradigm must shift if global leaders are serious about addressing climate change.
Perhaps the bold targets set forth in the Declaration will mark the beginning of the end to the forest climate policy contradictions. Global leaders must acknowledge that when it comes to generating electricity, burning carbon sinks isn’t “carbon neutral” and doesn’t fit with the stated goals in the Declaration on Forests coming out of the UN Climate Summit in NYC.
Even more important, they must take swift action to halt the runaway wood pellet train before it goes too far down a dead end track. Finally, now is the time for governments, investors and businesses to get serious about the capital that needs to be directed to scale up the protection and restoration of forests.