Issue Brief

International Forest Carbon in Congress: A Survey of Key Congressional Staff

Feb 15, 2009 | Lou Leonard, Raymond J. Kopp, Nigel Purvis

The imperative to reduce deforestation-related carbon emissions is fast becoming one of the major drivers of global climate policy. There is a recognized need to create incentives to curb carbon dioxide released through deforestation – especially in the developing world, where vast tropical forests are being cleared for agriculture and timber.

Recognizing that additional research and analysis on international forest carbon will be useful to U.S. policymakers, Resources for the Future gauged the general understanding of this issue among congressional lawmakers and staff. Over the course of two months, Lou Leonard, Director of U.S. Policy on International Climate Affairs for the World Wildlife Fund, interviewed more than 30 congressional staffers – Republicans and Democrats, from committee and personal offices, in the House and the Senate – to determine their views on the role of international forest carbon and their recommendations for areas of future research.

The results of this survey provide a detailed picture of the knowledge, beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes of U.S congressional staff with respect to forest carbon policy and the role forest carbon plays in global carbon dioxide emissions. At the most general level, the results suggest there is limited international forest carbon literacy among staff, a widespread belief there is no domestic political constituency for international forest carbon, and a perception that forest carbon credits should be viewed at best with suspicion. However, the findings also provide a comprehensive roadmap to guide research, philanthropic, and advocacy institutions seeking to engage with Congress on the issue.