Blog Post

RFF Report: An Assessment of U.S. Forest-Climate Assistance

Sep 27, 2012 | Michael Wolosin

While the impacts of climate change become more obvious almost by the day, comprehensive action by the international community and by the United States seem distant. At the same time, the window for diverting global greenhouse gas emissions towards a two degree Celsius pathway is quickly closing. In my view, one of the only ways we can keep that window open in the near term is to focus large-scale global investment, attention, and energy on reducing emissions from forests. That’s why it is so important that the global effort to reduce forest-based climate emissions succeeds.

In a new RFF report released today, I assess the progress and direction of a relatively new stream of U.S. climate finance contributing to the effort. The analysis breaks down the agency and programmatic sources of U.S. forest-climate finance, and takes a close look at where funding is going by country, by region, and by strategy.

By and large, the U.S. government has done a good job getting the new forest-climate program off the ground.  New flows are mostly aligned with the program’s clearly-defined strategy, and investments are largely flowing to the most critical forest nations (from the climate mitigation perspective). With a few changes outlined in the report, the program can and should correct a few important gaps between the program’s objectives and their implementation.

However, the existing strategy – designed in part to build developing country capacity to participate in global markets for forest-sector emissions reductions – is just too narrow. While carbon markets remain the most likely eventual source of large-scale finance for REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), they aren’t coming fast enough. Interim solutions and back-up plans for achieving REDD+ at scale are urgently needed.

This new report suggests two major changes to the U.S. program, to pursue alternative strategies. First, the United States should reorient its REDD+ program to reduce the expansion of agriculture into forests – a trend that is driven by global commodities markets. And second, the United States should support a growing trend in developing countries to pursue polies and actions that reduce forest and land-use emissions while accelerating economic growth even without carbon-based incentive payments. I’ve suggested some concrete ways to pursue these new strategies, but they aren’t nearly enough. I hope that this report helps spark new thinking and policy innovation that will move us in the right direction: urgently needed success on reducing forest emissions as quickly as possible.