WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. environmental groups are trying to expand a climate change bill being written in the Senate to help foreign countries pay for enforcing laws they already have in place for protecting forests as one way of reducing carbon pollution.
Global warming legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year would set up financial incentives encouraging new steps in the United States and abroad for reducing greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.
But there are doubts it would let those financial incentives flow to foreign countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, with forest protection laws on the books but few resources to enforce them.
“We have been talking to a lot of people about this issue,” said Sarene Marshall, deputy director of the Nature Conservancy’s climate change program.
She added that the “vast majority of deforestation in the Amazon is technically illegal because Brazil has one of most far-reaching protection laws on the books. We’re talking about programs that actually help move landowners into compliance.”
The clearing of large swaths of forests for farming, ranching, and other uses is estimated to contribute 20 percent of world greenhouse gas output. Trees soak up carbon dioxide when growing and release it when they rot or are burned.
But for some countries that already have forest-protection plans in place it is the enforcement of domestic laws, including on the local level, that will make the difference in pollution reduction efforts.
Democratic Senator John Kerry is leading the fight in the Senate for a compromise climate change bill that could be voted on this year. But talks have been difficult and so far there have been no guarantees of a bill being enacted soon.
Environmentalists are hoping Kerry includes in any compromise an expanded credit provision, in the form of “offsets,” that companies are allowed to undertake in their overall carbon-reduction efforts.
For example, a U.S. company could meet some of its federally mandated carbon emissions goals by helping protect forests and other environmentally sensitive lands abroad from being developed.
Indonesian forestry officials were in Washington last week trying to enhance cooperative efforts between the two countries. Indonesia is the world’s third largest carbon polluter when taking into account deforestation and land use and not just smokestack pollution.
Wandojo Siswanto, chairman of Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry, told Reuters that he hoped President Barack Obama’s visit to his country next week might result in a bilateral agreement to enhance U.S.-Indonesian forest management collaboration.
Wandojo and Basah Hernowo, Indonesia’s director for forestry and water resources conservation, also said that a quick injection of international aid funds, separate from the “offsets,” were needed to help developing countries like Indonesia tackle global warming.
But they did not detail how much money was being sought or what it would be used for if granted.
In December, a United Nations-sponsored conference meeting in Copenhagen called on rich countries to create a $30 billion fund over three years to help poorer countries combat climate change. That “fast-start” fund would grow to $100 billion a year by 2020.
The next annual U.N. climate meeting — beginning in November in Mexico — may not be able to conclude with a binding, international deal on how to battle global warming after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. But there are hopes that a worldwide accord on managing forests at least can be struck there.
“We need international support” with forest protection, Wandojo said, adding, “We believe that the (U.N.-led) negotiations couldn’t be moving forward without the leadership of the U.S.”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham