A bipartisan advocacy group is calling on the United States to lead the effort to protect tropical forests around the world as a way to combat global warming. The Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests is pushing for the Senate to make deforestation a centerpiece of its climate bill.
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Tropical forests are home to more than half of all the animal and plant life on the planet.
But 17 percent of the world's carbon dioxide pollution also comes from areas where countries burn forests and convert them into farms and ranches.
That emits more greenhouse gases than all the world's cars, trains and planes combined according to the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests. Mark Tercek of the Nature Conservancy is one of its members. "We need to hurry. The rain forests are under tremendous threat and we think it's important that we get to work urgently saving rain forests," Tercek said.
This bipartisan coalition of business leaders and former policy makers are urging the United States to save forests worldwide and cut greenhouse gas emissions to half by 2020.
The co-chair of the commission and president of a liberal think tank, John Podesta, says stopping deforestation will help fight global warming, a climate issue that cannot be ignored. "I think we can expect more extreme weather events, more environmental refugees, worsening resource conflicts, and heightened human suffering," he states.
The commission says the U.S. can help prevent a bleak future if the Senate makes deforestation a centerpiece of its climate bill. It recommends that the U.S should work with other nations and invest $1 billion in public funding by 2012. The commission also urges the private sector to contribute $9 billion annually by 2020.
"And those dollars would be spent and invested in things like monitoring systems, verification, training, good land managers," Tercek said.
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The money will also provide a financial reward by paying countries that stop deforestation. The incentive for the private sector - if companies contribute to saving tropical forests, they won't have to spend money on cleaning up their own carbon dioxide emissions.
Deforestation is expected to be a key issue at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Denmark this December.
Eighteen heads of state have expressed their commitment to investing funds to stop deforestation. The commission is urging the U.S. to take the lead.
Some conservatives in the U.S. Congress reject the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made and say efforts to combat climate change will cost too much for the U.S. economy.
John Podesta disagrees, "In 2009 it's clearer than ever that our collision with a frightening future is quickly approaching," he said.
The commission says saving forests is crucial to international stability and security. Deforestation and illegal logging have helped finance armed conflicts in countries like Liberia. The commission claims peace and reconciliation can be achieved through programs that save forests.
"They provide food, clean water, shelter and if you take those things away, and you don't have clean water," Tercek says, "or you have floods or insufficient food that's a source of instability."
Members of the commission plan on meeting with the Obama administration and key lawmakers in coming weeks to discuss the details on reducing greenhouse gases.