American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. joined other businesses and environmental groups today in announcing their unified support for provisions for protecting tropical forest in cap-and-trade legislation.

The coalition reached an agreement [pdf] with two major facets. The groups support using 5 percent of valuable greenhouse gas emission allowances under the bill's cap-and-trade system to prevent tropical deforestation and reduce international forest emissions. They also want companies to receive credits for tropical forest protection activities.

The groups' proposal largely is consistent with a draft bill now being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, although some details vary. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the issue has been debated for many years, and the groups' coming together marks a "very major significant step" in reaching consensus on an approach to avoiding deforestation.

"This investment will pay dividends in the future, and it will help make a sizable dent in reducing these emissions," she said in a conference call.

Beinecke and Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power, emphasized that the projects funded must be measurable and verified. Besides the agreement's environmental benefits, Morris added, "It's a very constructive and customer-friendly way to go about it."

Nigel Purvis, president of Climate Advisers, estimated that the 5 percent set-aside would likely reduce annual emissions equivalent to those of France or Spain. The funding would equal about $3.4 billion annually for tropical forest preservation, with 340 million tons of carbon dioxide eliminated, he said. The business credits would generate by 2015 about $12 billion to $15 billion for international forest conservation, he added.

The groups said the United States should make the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of forests in developing nations a central goal of federal climate legislation, as tropical deforestation and other land-use decisions account for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their agreement outlines 14 principles they want included in cap-and-trade legislation. They want emission reductions from forests in developing nations allowed into U.S. compliance-based carbon markets. Major emitters should be required to adopt national strategies for forest emission reductions before joining, while countries with less emissions should be allowed into the markets immediately.

The groups also called for timelines for all countries to develop those national baselines and for Congress to appropriate a "substantial and meaningful sum" for the next three years in foreign aid to developing countries to create the baselines and take other preparatory actions.

International forest emission reductions should be fully interchangeable with other emission reductions in the cap-and-trade system, they said. And U.S. agencies should adopt standards for measuring, monitoring and verifying international forest activities that prevent double-counting and account for the potential for forest emissions to shift to other areas as a result of climate policy.

Cap-and-trade legislation should also include social protections for indigenous people, forest-dependent communities and the rural poor for projects that receive funding or access to U.S. carbon markets, they said.

The groups also detailed what activities should qualify for money from the 5 percent of allowances. They include programs to assist developing nations in managing forests and lay the groundwork for participation in international forest carbon markets; incentives for emissions reductions from forestry activities; programs to conserve existing forests, including payments to countries that already have low forestry emission rates; programs to improve forest management and land-use policy; up-front financing for emission reduction activities; and credit for early action before the cap-and-trade program is in place.

In the draft climate change bill proposed by House Democrats, credits aimed at gaining emissions cuts by avoiding tropical deforestation would slowly decrease over time. From 2012 through 2025, 5 percent of allowances would pay for efforts to prevent tropical deforestation and establish an international system of deforestation offsets. House Democrats said that by 2020, the program would achieve additional emission reductions equivalent to 10 percent of U.S. emissions in 2005. From 2026 through 2030, 3 percent of allowances would be allocated to the program, and from 2031 to 2050, the amount would be reduced to 2 percent.

The groups supporting the agreement include American Electric Power, Conservation International, Duke Energy, El Paso Corp., Environmental Defense Fund, Disney Corp., Marriott International, Mercy Corps, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, PG&E Corp., Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Union of Concerned Scientists, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Woods Hole Research Center.


Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500