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Unlikely partner could boost ‘best deal’ for protecting forests, slowing climate change

The Californian Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force has made ripples at the United Nations Climate Summit.
Even if California’s REDD program suppressed deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon only slightly, it could double or triple the law’s effect in slowing climate change, by galvanizing regional efforts.

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NEW YORK — A declaration by the governors of 21 tropical states and provinces announced recently at the United Nations Climate Summit is one of the “best deals going” for mitigating climate change and protecting tropical forests, a top scientist says.

And one non-tropical place—California—could be “key” to the success of the declaration.

The Governors’ Climate & Forests Task Force (GCF) signed the Rio Branco Declaration in August, committing to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020—if pay-for-performance financing can be secured from donor governments and the private sector.

Significantly, the governors pledge to channel a substantial share of that revenue toward indigenous people and forest communities.

Daniel Nepstad, the Executive Director of the Earth Innovation Institute, said on the sidelines of the Colloquium on Forests and Climate that although the task force has been a long-term collaboration, momentum has built significantly this year.

“The idea was to send a message to the Climate Summit here in New York that the tropical governors are ready to do their part, [that] they’re ready to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020.”

“But they need help,” he said.

The Rio Branco Declaration was signed in the capital city of Brazil’s Acre state in the far western Amazon.

Acre itself has made enormous progress in enshrining a low-deforestation agenda into its state legislation and is waiting for international finance to start flowing.

The declaration states it plainly.

“The progress [that] GCF states and provinces have achieved to date is significant but fragile,” it says. “Support is urgently needed to ensure the economic and political sustainability of these programs.”

“We are committed to making significant emissions reductions provided that adequate, sufficient and long-term performance-based funding is available.”

The GCF Task Force comprises tropical states and provinces in Brazil, Peru, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Mexico—as well as non-tropical jurisdictions such as Catalonia in Spain, and Illinois and California in the United States, that are developing their own climate policies and are looking for ways to offset their emissions.

There could be a massive positive impact from this pledge because so much of the world’s tropical forest cover is found in these particular states

Amy Duchelle

The group aims to advance state-level programs in tropical countries designed to promote low emissions rural development and reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and link these activities with emerging greenhouse gas compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance mechanisms.


So far, California is the only jurisdiction in the world that is actively considering recognizing international carbon credits from REDD+ that could be sold as offsets to industrial emitters in California under the state’s mandatory cap-and-trade program.

But California hasn’t committed to implementing REDD yet, and the state is one of the few GCF members that have not yet signed the Rio Branco pledge—though Nepstad is hopeful that will happen soon.

The implementation of REDD in California’s climate law would energize the governments of the GCF states and provinces that are building these deforestation reduction programs–and it would provide a considerable ‘bang for the buck’ for California’s climate change program, Nepstad says.

When Nepstad met with the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, he was keenly interested in Brazil’s success in slowing deforestation.

And even if California’s REDD program suppressed deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon only slightly, it could double or triple the law’s effect in slowing climate change, by galvanizing regional efforts, Nepstad says.

“The Rio Branco Declaration represents one of the best near-term climate change solutions because the tropical forest state governors are not asking for industrialized countries to pay the whole bill,” he said.

He points to Mato Grosso in Brazil as an example. A huge agricultural economy, it has reduced its deforestation rate by more than 80 percent.

“If it were a country, it would be one of the top climate change mitigators worldwide. It accounts for more than half the decline in deforestation in the Amazon—and it hasn’t received a cent,” Nepstad said.

“So I think any sign from California that they want to have a partnership and get some investments flowing to reduce deforestation and support communities—that would go a long way to galvanize the political support for a low-deforestation agenda in Mato Grosso.”

“This is THE biggest opportunity that we have over the next few years. And California is key.” 


Amy Duchelle, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Brazil, says the Rio Branco Declaration shows a serious commitment to reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

“There could be a massive positive impact from this pledge,” she says, “because so much of the world’s tropical forest cover is found in these particular states.”

Duchelle has done extensive research in Acre, examining its State System of Incentives for Environmental Services, as well as other subnational REDD+ programs across Brazil—and together with other CIFOR scientists began collaborating more closely with the GCF Task Force in 2014.

At this year’s annual GCF meeting in Acre, they shared insights from their research, including some of the early impacts the innovative policies are having, and the challenges faced by proponents of subnational REDD+ initiatives.

Duchelle lauded the declaration for calling attention to how quickly subnational efforts to address climate change and deforestation have progressed.

“We need a faster pace to make some of these changes happen, so it’s important we don’t only focus on the international framework to the exclusion of the exciting developments that are happening at the regional scale,” she said.

“There are a lot of inspiring stories that are coming out of lower levels that need to be valued, and lessons learned and applied to action at national and global scales.”

Nepstad agreed.

“I think the innovation today—if we look at the forest and farming piece of the global puzzle that we have to sort out—is really at the sub-national level,” he said.

“Central governments have huge political hurdles to do anything bold—yet there are lots of governors out there that do want to be bold. We are in a bottom-up world where innovation is bubbling up in regions around the world and that is giving us globally significant results.”

For more information about this topic, please contact Amy Duchelle at a.duchelle@cgiar.org.

CIFOR’s work on climate change forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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