October 8, 2009 in Nation/World

‘Forest offsets’ would aid bottom line, report finds

Companies could cut emissions more cheaply by saving rainforests
Margot Roosevelt Los Angeles Times
File Associated Press photo

A forest burns in the Brazilian state of Para in December 2004.
(Full-size photo)

U.S. companies could save tens of billions of dollars by investing in efforts to combat deforestation in developing nations instead of cleaning up their own domestic carbon dioxide emissions, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report, from the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, backs the use of “forest offsets” in the global effort to curb pollution that is heating up the atmosphere. It was released in advance of the U.S. Senate debate on climate legislation later this year and an international meeting on the issue set for December in Copenhagen.

The burning of tropical forests and their conversion to cattle farms and soybean fields is responsible for some 17 percent of the emissions that are causing global warming – more than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains and planes combined.

“It is one of the few major sources of emissions that can be addressed cost-effectively now,” said the report from a panel co-chaired by former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and John Podesta, chief of staff under President Bill Clinton and now head of the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank.

The commission estimates that if American companies invest about $60 billion between 2012 and 2020 to preserve rainforests in such countries as Brazil and Indonesia, they could achieve the same amount of global emissions cuts while avoiding the expense of about $110 billion on U.S. remedies.

That would amount to a net savings of $50 billion – enough, perhaps, to make climate legislation palatable to companies that have opposed tough global warming rules.

The 71-page report also calls on the U.S. government to make similar, multibillion-dollar investments to help developing nations survey their forests, measure their carbon, set up legal mechanisms to preserve them, and enforce conservation.

But the massive use of offsets – a way for companies to pay for emission reductions outside their own operations – is controversial. Many European environmental groups, along with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Rainforest Action, oppose offsets as “a way for corporations like American Electric Power to buy their way out of any pollution cuts and avoid replacing coal with solar and wind power,” said Rolf Skar, Greenpeace’s senior forestry campaigner.

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