Earth Innovation Institute Executive Director Dan Nepstad testified this week before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs committee on what roles the United States can play in protecting the world’s largest tropical forest.
“There are seven-to-eight years’ worth of global carbon emissions stored in the trees of the Amazon,” Nepstad told committee members. “If that carbon comes out rapidly it really diminishes the likelihood that humanity will avoid catastrophic climate change.”
The September 10 hearing, “Preserving the Amazon: A Shared Moral Imperative” was convened amid the backdrop of ongoing fires in the Amazon region, which sparked global outcry and have fueled concerns over the rollback of environmental policies in Brazil, home to a majority of the Amazon.
Nepstad noted that while this year’s fires are not unprecedented, the situation is dire and that of particular concern are standing forests, as opposed to previously felled forests that data suggests account for much of the current spate of fires.
“We need to be watching for those (standing) forests and make sure that if they catch fire there are teams on the ground ready to spot them and put them out,” Nepstad stressed, adding that once a standing forest burns it becomes that much easier for it to burn again, part of what he and other experts refer to as a “dieback scenario” for the Amazon.
Nepstad spoke alongside Monica de Bolle, director of the Latin American Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University, and Bill Millan, chief conservation officer for the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.
As for the role that the United States can play in helping to protect the Amazon, Nepstad urged lawmakers to recognize “historic” achievements Brazil has made in reducing deforestation in recent years and to ensure that the country and its farmers are fairly compensated for their contributions to slowing global climate change.
“This is not a time to back out of trade agreements, it’s a time to stay in trade agreements and send a signal [to farmers and states protecting forests] that there will be real benefits and we need to monetize those benefits for forest conservation.”
The hearing comes just over a week before California announces its decision on whether to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard, a measure that could help create greater monetary incentives for tropical states to keep forests standing. Supporters, which include some of the world’s leading climate scientists, say the measure could also stand as a model for other governments interested in investing in tropical forest protection.