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Reducing Deforestation is Key to Addressing Climate Change, WWF Official Tells Congress

WASHINGTON -- National and international plans to combat climate change must address the root causes of deforestation, which is responsible for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) official said in testimony before the U.S. Senate today.  

David Hayes, a senior fellow at WWF and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration, testified at a hearing on “International Deforestation and Climate Change,” convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection.   

“The attention on deforestation is both appropriate and necessary, given the fact that the on-going loss of forestry resources accounts for approximately 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, world-wide,” Hayes testified.  “Simply put, we cannot make progress in battling climate change unless we reduce the alarming rate of deforestation that is occurring on an on-going basis in a number of developing nations.” 

Hayes explained that trees draw large quantities of carbon dioxide, a primary global warming pollutant, out of the air, making them a valuable tool for counteracting, or “offsetting,” greenhouse gas emissions from various sources including power plants and automobiles.  But because so much carbon dioxide is sequestered within trees, greenhouse gas emissions can rise considerably when forests are cut down, Hayes said, complicating efforts to mitigate climate change.   

“Sustainable progress will only be made by addressing the complex root causes of deforestation and forest degradation,” Hayes testified.  “This will require the cooperation of the governments who are losing their forestry resources; the cooperation of the U.S. and other developed nations whose trade practices are influencing how forestry resources are being used (and/or abused); and, importantly, the active participation of indigenous people and others who are most impacted by land use choices in their home lands.” 

Hayes told the Subcommittee that national legislation and international treaties on climate change should promote economic policies and market incentives that encourage the use of sustainably harvested forestry products and penalize those who contribute to deforestation.  They should also ensure that international carbon markets, which will arise when a price becomes affixed to greenhouse gas pollutants under a cap and trade program, recognize and reward forest preservation activities, he said.  

Hayes added that WWF supports a provision in the leading climate change bill in the Senate, the Lieberman-Warner bill, which allows emissions credits for forest protection. 

“WWF is optimistic that the U.S., working with the international community, can identify and implement a comprehensive program that tackles the root causes of deforestation.  This effort can and must include the development of financial mechanisms that will sustainably protect forestry resources and complement commitments by developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Hayes.

David Hayes' written testimony can be viewed here.