Climate Change and International Deforestation: Legislative Analysis
Climate Change and International Deforestation:
August 22, 2008
Pervaze A. Sheikh and Ross W. Gorte
Specialists in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Knowledge Services Group
Climate Change and International Deforestation:
Deforestation accounts for nearly 20% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas
emissions in the world. Deforestation results in carbon emissions when trees and
underlying vegetation are burning or decomposing. Deforested areas that are later
cultivated also release carbon to the atmosphere when soil carbon is oxidized.
Further, deforested areas converted to other land uses (e.g., pastures) might sequester
less carbon than forests, enabling greater levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Providing
incentives to prevent deforestation in foreign countries has been proposed in climate
change legislation. An objective of this legislation is to provide funding from carbon
markets to assist foreign countries in reducing deforestation and increasing forest
restoration and afforestation. Challenges to this approach include implementing
deforestation reduction activities in developing countries that may lack the capacity
to monitor and enforce measures, avoiding harm to indigenous communities who rely
on forest resources, and matching policies with the various drivers of deforestation
in different regions around the world. Legislative policies on deforestation and
climate change are analyzed in this report, and challenges for restoring forests in the
tropics are discussed.
International Deforestation in Climate Change Legislation..............2
Objectives and Definitions...................................3
Eligibility for Assistance....................................3
Authorization for Funding...................................4
Standards for Forest Carbon Activities.........................4
Challenges for Implementing Proposed Legislation...................6
List of Figures
Figure 1. Global Change in Forest Cover, 2000-2005.....................2
List of Tables
Table 1. Definitions of Terms Related to Forest Carbon Activities...........5
Climate Change and International
Deforestation: Legislative Analysis
Deforestation1 is responsible for the largest share of additional carbon dioxide
(CO2) released to the atmosphere due to land use changes, approximately 20% of
total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually.2 Deforestation
results in carbon emissions when trees and underlying vegetation are burning or
decomposing. Deforested areas that are later cultivated also release carbon to the
atmosphere when soil carbon is oxidized. Further, deforested areas converted to
other land uses (e.g., pastures) might sequester less carbon than forests, enabling
greater levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Forests store approximately 45% of
terrestrial carbon, and in the 1990s were estimated to remove 2.6 billion tons of
carbon (mtCO2) from the atmosphere per year; this sequestered amount is equivalent
to approximately 33% of anthropogenic carbon emissions from fossil fuel and land
use changes.3 Data on carbon sequestration and emissions are not available for many
regions, making global estimates uncertain.
Much of the deforestation responsible for CO2 releases occurs in tropical
regions, specifically in developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tropical forests store approximately 25% of the
total global terrestrial carbon. Scientists estimate that tropical deforestation and other
land use changes may have been responsible for releasing approximately 1.5 billion
metric tons of CO2 per year to the atmosphere during the 1990s, and may be
contributing similar amounts of carbon to the atmosphere today.4 Some contend that
deforestation due to logging might result in small carbon emissions because timber
converted into products will not release CO2 immediately. Others disagree, stating
that the percentage of wood transformed into wood products is probably small in
tropical and temperate regions.
Deforestation rates vary across the world, yet are generally higher in tropical
regions (see Figure 1). By continent, the highest rate of net forest loss is in South
America, which lost approximately 4.3 million hectares (ha) of its forest (0.5%)
1 Deforestation is the conversion of forests to pasture, cropland, urban areas, or other
landscapes that have few or no trees. Afforestation is planting trees on lands that have not
grown trees in recent years, such as abandoned cropland.
2 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Climate Change
wg1-report.html]. (Hereafter referred to as 2007 IPCC WG I Report.)
3 Gordon B. Bonan, “Forests and Climate Change: Forcings, Feedbacks, and the Climate
Benefits of Forests,” Science, v. 320 (2008): 1444-1449.
4 2007 IPCC WG I Report, Table 7.1, p. 517.
annually from 2000 to 2005. This is followed by Africa, which lost approximately
4.0 million ha (0.6%) of its forest annually during the same period. North America
(including Central America), in contrast, lost approximately 333,000 ha (0.05%)
annually from 2000-2005; and in China, there was a reported gain of 4.1 million ha
of forest annually (2.2%) during the same period, primarily due to large-scale
Figure 1. Global Change in Forest Cover, 2000-2005
Source: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Global Forests Resources Assessment (Rome,
Italy: 2006), 320 pp.
Note: Dark lines represent the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
International Deforestation in Climate Change Legislation
The role of forests in the carbon cycle and the extent of deforestation and its
impact on GHG emissions are primary reasons deforestation is addressed in climate
change legislation. Many experts contend that protecting forests or preventing
deforestation may be less expensive than other technologies to reduce CO2 emissions,
and provide other environmental and socioeconomic benefits such as preserving
biodiversity. Others contend that increasing carbon sequestration through restoration
and preventing deforestation, though compelling in theory, might be challenging and
more expensive in practice.
Bills that address deforestation propose in their findings that international
deforestation is a major contributor to GHG emissions, and that foreign countries
with forests have a role in preventing deforestation and engaging in restoration and
5 Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005. (Rome, Italy: FAO, 2006), Global Tables, at
[ h t t p : / / www.f a o.or g/ f o r e st r y/ f r a 2005/ en/ ] .
afforestation activities. Some argue that congressional intent to address deforestation
is misplaced with funding initiatives to prevent deforestation in foreign countries.
They question the ability of some foreign countries to implement and monitor forest
restoration and preservation programs, and the potential value to the United States
of implementing these programs. Further, they argue that funds should be focused
on domestic efforts to address forest restoration and carbon sequestration
This CRS legislative analysis covers key issues and policies addressed by three
selected climate change bills introduced in the 110th Congress that include
international deforestation: S. 3036, H.R. 6186, and H.R. 6316.
Objectives and Definitions. These bills would address deforestation and
climate change by authorizing funding to eligible foreign countries to reduce
deforestation, increase forest restoration and afforestation, and improve forest
management. Forest carbon activities (or deforestation reduction activities) would
be supported by programs proposed in the legislation. The definitions of forest
carbon activities are specific, and include:
!activities directed at reducing GHG emissions from deforestation
and forest degradation;
!activities that increase sequestration through restoration of forests
and degraded land that has not been forested prior to restoration; and
!increasing sequestration through afforestation and improved forest
Restoring recently deforested tracts is not an eligible forest carbon activity under
these bills. The intent to exclude this activity might be to dissuade countries from
deforesting new areas with the expectation of financial assistance for restoration
afterwards. For example, it has been argued by some that countries could receive the
economic benefits from selling tropical timber in the international market, and then
potentially receive international assistance to replant without requiring countries to
assume the economic costs of preventing deforestation. This would subsidize tropical
timber production with perverse effects in both trade and GHG emissions. However,
some argue that excluding recently forested areas from the program might neglect the
potential for restoration in large areas of tropical and temperate forests. Indeed, some
may contend that previously forested land might offer the best ecological conditions
for successful restoration. For example, in tropical forests, where soils are fragile,
several studies report that reforestation is most successful soon after deforestation,
and sometimes is least successful when lands have been used for grazing, agriculture,6
or other human-related activities for several years.
Eligibility for Assistance. Most deforestation and net forest carbon
emissions occur in developing countries. Some of these countries have little capacity
to undertake forest carbon activities and effectively monitor and measure results. All
6 For example, see Robin Chazdon, “Tropical Forest Recovery: Legacies of Human Impact
and Natural Disturbances,” Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, vol.
three bills acknowledge this possibility and authorize a set of eligibility requirements
for countries that could participate in their programs. Countries eligible for receiving
financial assistance under forest carbon programs roughly fall into two categories:
!Category I — countries with a demonstrated capacity to monitor and
measure carbon stocks; capped GHGs; a GHG reduction program or
an emission reduction plan for the forest sector; and data on natural
forest carbon stocks; and
!Category II — countries that need assistance to achieve the
eligibility requirements of Category I. (These would be countries
that have demonstrated a commitment to conduct preparatory
activities to build their capacity to engage in deforestation or forest
degradation activities, or need to develop the capacity to measure
and monitor forest carbon changes.)
H.R. 6186 and H.R. 6316 distinguish these two categories and would provide funding
for both categories; S. 3036 includes only countries under the first category as
Authorization for Funding. Allocation for funding countries under each
category varies among the bills. For international forest activities, countries under
the first category would receive all funds provided by S. 3036, at least 60% of the
funds provided by H.R. 6186, and up to 50% of the funds provided by H.R. 6316.
The percentages of funding for countries in each of the two categories does not
change over time, yet presumably the intent of the policy is to assist countries in
Category II to reach Category I status.
Standards for Forest Carbon Activities. Some policies support standards
for forest carbon activities. All three bills provide for the Administrator of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with other agency heads, to develop
standards for forest carbon activities. These standards include implementing activities
according to widely accepted sustainable environmental practices, promoting native
species and ecosystems, promoting fair compensation, and involving public and
indigenous participation and consent. These standards address, in part, potential
negative collateral effects of forest restoration and afforestation activities (e.g., unfair
treatment of indigenous people who use forest resources, and the introduction of non-
native species). The bills also require that forest carbon activities be “real, permanent,
additional, verifiable, and enforceable, with reliable measuring and monitoring.” (See
Table 1 for definitions; also see CRS Report RL34560, Forest Carbon Markets:
Potential and Drawbacks, by Ross W. Gorte and Jonathan L. Ramseur.)
Existing Programs. Some contend that deforestation and climate change
legislation should integrate forest carbon activities with existing federal programs.
This would provide established infrastructure for programs, offer a framework for
implementation and monitoring, and avoid duplication with other initiatives. Others
counter by suggesting that existing programs are not broad enough to address all
forest types and all potentially eligible countries with forests. None of the bills
attempts to integrate forest carbon activities with existing U.S. international forestry
Table 1. Definitions of Terms Related to
Forest Carbon Activities
RealA requirement that a forest carbon activity must be real means that
the activity must actually occur and must sequester a quantifiable
amount of carbon.
PermanentPermanent is a requirement that a forest carbon activity achieve
reductions in emissions or sequestration that last permanently. This
addresses concerns that forestry-related projects might be halted or
reversed by a range of factors related to human activities or natural
causes (e.g., disease, forest fires, and decomposition). Some contend
that true permanence is difficult to achieve with forest projects and
that alternative approaches might be necessary.
AdditionalAdditional is used to define carbon sequestration in addition to that
realized under business-as-usual activities. The purpose of
additionality is to assure new carbon sequestration activities that
otherwise would not have occurred, rather than providing payment
for activities that would have happened anyway.
VerifiableVerifiable carbon sequestration implies that sequestration must be
real and measurable. Techniques for measuring and monitoring
include the use of satellite imagery and remote sensing to quantify
forest cover, and on-the-ground measurements to confirm carbon
stocks in forests.
EnforceableEnforceable means that GHG reduction and carbon sequestration
activities can be enforced by authorities or through contracts.
Enforcement can be accomplished through a contract, such as an
easement to require continued forest cover, or through the creation of
federal laws that create enforcement authorities. This would depend
on the quality and stability of a country’s legal system.
Source: Definitions derived by CRS from terms used in S. 3036, H.R. 6186, and H.R. 6316.
The U.S. government is involved in several international programs that address
forest degradation and deforestation. Particular programs include the International
Tropical Timber Organization, the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, and two
regional U.S. initiatives. The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO)
was founded in 1986 because of concerns over tropical deforestation.7 The8
organization has 60 members (including the United States) that together have about
80% of the world’s tropical forests and conduct 90% of the global tropical timber
trade. ITTO promotes sustainable forest management and forest conservation
strategies, and assists tropical member countries to adopt such strategies in timber
7 For more information, see [http://220.127.116.11/live/PageDisplayHandler?pageId=225].
8 The United States provides approximately $1.0 million annually to the ITTO.
The Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA; P.L. 105-214; 22 U.S.C. §2431)
authorizes debt-for-nature transactions, where developing country debt is exchanged
for local funds to conserve tropical forests. Conservation funds (in local currency)
from these transactions are deposited in a tropical forest fund for each country.
Interest earned from this principal balance and the principal itself is usually given in
the form of grants for tropical forest conservation projects. Eligible conservation
projects include (1) establishing, maintaining, and restoring forest parks and
protected reserves; (2) training to increase the capacity of personnel to manage
reserves; (3) developing and supporting communities near or within tropical forests;
(4) developing sustainable ecosystem and land management systems; and (5)
identifying the medicinal uses of tropical forest plants and their products. To date,
12 countries have participated in this program, establishing 13 agreements that will
reduce at least $20.0 million from the face value of their debts to the United States
and generate $162.5 million in local currency in the next 12-26 years for tropical
forest conservation projects.
The United States has two regional initiatives that involve restoring and
conserving tropical forests. The Amazon Basin Conservation Initiative and the
Congo Basin Forest Partnership are both managed by the U.S. Agency for
International Development.9 The Amazon Initiative aims to conserve biodiversity
managed by indigenous and traditional groups and promote regional cooperation for
sharing knowledge and improving governance to help conserve resources in the
Amazon Basin. These objectives include maintaining forest cover and maximizing
use of non-timber forest products (e.g., fruits and nuts). The Congo Partnership is
a similar initiative, but focuses specifically on projects supporting a network of
managed protected areas, improving forest governance, and developing sustainable
management practices for resource use in the Congo Basin. The U.S. Agency for
International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have a number
of additional, related programs and activities.
Challenges for Implementing Proposed Legislation
Implementing forest protection programs in the tropics can be challenging for
several reasons. Some assert that the causes of deforestation vary in different regions
and that a “one size fits all” approach to reduce deforestation might not be
successful.10 For example, deforestation in the Amazon Basin is driven, in part, by
livestock and soybean production, which leads to the conversion of forests to pastures
and farms.11 In contrast, in parts of Central Africa, deforestation is driven, in part,
by fuelwood extraction and charcoal production. Policies that are flexible and address
9 The Amazon Initiative is a five-year, $50 million program, and the Congo Initiative is a
four-year, $53 million program.
10 Markku Kanninen et al., Do Trees Grow on Money? The Implications of Deforestation
Research for Policies to Promote REDD (Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International
Forestry Research [CIFOR]: 2007), 61 pp. Hereafter referred to as Implications of
11 William Laurance et al., “Deforestation in Amazonia,” Science, vol. 304 (2004): 1109-
diverse economic, social, and cultural influences are expected to be most successful,
according to some.12
Observers also contend that deforestation programs will require consistent and
effective monitoring and measuring systems that quantify changes in forest cover and
provide accurate accounting of forest carbon stocks.13 For example, some contend
that the coverage and quality of satellite imagery in tropical countries is inadequate
to estimate forest cover and rates of deforestation on small scales. Some also suggest
that consistent and tested methods for establishing baseline and historical changes in
forest cover and carbon stocks need to be implemented in any global plan to address
deforestation.14 In some developing countries, monitoring and enforcement capacity
may be lacking. Some contend that funding should be first directed at improving
infrastructure and the capacity to measure carbon stocks, monitor emissions and land
use, and enforce forest carbon activities.
Enforcement obligations to prevent deforestation might be a challenge in
developing countries. If a multilateral program is implemented, with individual
countries responsible for enforcing and monitoring forest cover obligations, problems
related to corruption, weak governance, and inconsistent enforcement may hinder the
program. There are few, if any, models for an international entity to successfully
enforce natural resource laws or policies in other countries.15
Some argue that programs to reduce deforestation should cause minimal
disruptions to rural livelihoods. Some rural people in tropical countries depend on
forest resources for subsistence and economic gain. Forest uses include fuel wood,
charcoal, wild game, fruit, and timber. Strict forest protection programs may affect
subsistence use of forest products and cause significant economic harm to rural and
indigenous peoples who depend on forests. Some examples demonstrate success
where local populations benefit directly and there are incentives to enforce forest
12 For example, addressing corporate drivers of deforestation is supported by Rhett Bulter
and William Laurance, “New Strategies for Conserving Tropical Forests,” Trends in
Ecology and Evolution, article in press (2008).
13 Implications of Deforestation.
15 The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and
Fauna (CITES) attempts to monitor the implementation of the Convention through a
centralized office. However, each country is responsible for implementing and enforcing
the provisions of the treaty individually.