White House Major Economies Meeting


whITE HOUSE Major Economies Meeting

September 27, 2007  

  • There are a number of reasons why it is critical that our strategies to address energy and climate change take full account of the land use sector.  
    • First, from an environmental perspective, agriculture, deforestation and other land use activities account for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally.  For some countries, they are by far the largest source of emissions.  Indeed, some countries [Indonesia, Malaysia] rank among the world’s largest emitters only by virtue of their emissions from deforestation.  For those countries, and globally, a comprehensive approach to climate change must reduce emissions from this sector.
    • Second, from an economic perspective, some of the lowest-cost opportunities for emission reduction are to be found in this sector.  A number of analyses, including the Stern Review and work done by McKinsey and Company, show significant mitigation potential in the forestry sector for well under $20 per ton of CO2.  The Stern Review concluded that in some regions emissions from deforestation could be reduced for less than $5 a ton.   
    • Third, from a development perspective, addressing emissions from this sector can deliver some very significant co-benefits.  Protecting forests protects biodiversity and soils and creates new opportunities to reduce poverty.  Healthy ecosystems support healthy economies.  Putting a value of the climate benefits provided by forests is one of the keys to sustainable development.  
  • So for all of these reasons, this is a sector we can not afford to ignore.     
  •  That said, there are number of caveats and complications. 
    •  First, land use is an area where it’s been notoriously difficult to measure emissions and monitor trends.  We’ve made significant headway, with new methodologies technologies, in particular remote sensing by satellite.  But greater progress is needed.  We need enough precision so that we are confident that a ton is a ton.  
    • Second, there is no resource more fundamental than land, and we must be mindful of the many competing demands on it.  This is especially true in the case of biofuels, which potentially are a very important part of the answer to climate change and energy security.  But the move toward biofuels will be beneficial only if we ensure that these truly are low-carbon fuels, calculated on a life-cycle basis.  Our land use and biofuels policies need to be closely coordinated to make sure that we are not simply substituting one form of emissions for another. So, what can be done internationally to fit land use into our climate change strategies? 
  • I would first emphasize how encouraging it is that this question is being put on the table by those countries that have the most to contribute.  A coalition led by Papau New Guinea and Costa Rica, and separately Brazil, are calling for new measures under the Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce tropical deforestation.  At the moment, this appears to be among the most promising avenues for deeper developing country engagement in the global climate effort.
  • Let me offer a few observations on how forestry and land use can be addressed in a post-2012 climate framework.  
    • First, there appears to be a growing consensus among the experts and policymakers that we should approach this not project by project, but sector-wide.  In other words, a country’s progress is best ascertained by measuring emissions and changes in those emissions across its entire forestry or land use sector.   
    • Second, the overriding message from the tropical forest countries is that incentives are needed if they are to undertake stronger efforts.  There are differences among them on just what form these incentives should take.  Realistically, I think we are far more likely to see significant flows under a market-based approach than through an international fund supported by donor countries.  Either way, it is perfectly reasonable for these countries to ask for incentives.  By the same token, though, I think it’s reasonable for those countries providing the incentives to ask in exchange that the countries receiving them be prepared to deliver action on the basis of commitments, not just voluntary pledges. 
    • And this leads to my third, and final, point: I do not believe we will be able to mobilize the efforts needed globally in this sector or in any other without a comprehensive set of binding international commitments.  An aspirational long-term goal is not enough.  To sustain ambitious efforts nationally, and to generate the strong incentives tropical forest countries are asking for, countries must have confidence that their counterparts are contributing their fair share to the global effort.  That’s best done through fair, credible, and verifiable commitments.  We should be open to different types of commitments – for some countries, a commitment to reduce deforestation might be the best approach.  But we are fooling ourselves if we think that we can do what’s needed without binding international commitments.  I look forward to our discussion.  Thank you.