A Scientists’ Letter to Governor Brown on his Unique Opportunity to Unlock the Potential of Tropical Forests as a Climate Change Solution

July 31, 2018

The Honorable Governor Jerry Brown,

We are scientists who have devoted our careers to understanding and solving climate change and other threats to the capacity of the Earth to sustain human civilization.

We applaud your global leadership in making California a beacon of hope to the world that the battle against climate change can be won.

California’s own programs and policies, and the partnerships that you have forged and nurtured with other governments to accelerate the decarbonization of regional economies, have increased the likelihood that we will avoid extremely dangerous climate change.

The Global Climate Action Summit and the tenth anniversary of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force that you will host next September are important opportunities to galvanize this remarkable progress and to bring in one more critical piece.

The best science points to an important part of the climate change solution that you are uniquely positioned to unlock: tropical forests. These carbon- and species-rich ecosystems could deliver up to a fourth of the carbon emissions reductions needed by 2030 to avoid dangerous climate change[i]. Slowing the deforestation and degradation of tropical forests, the source of as much as one fifth of global emissions[ii], while allowing damaged forests to recover is one of the most cost-effective, near-term steps towards a zero net carbon budget globally.

California can help unlock this potential by incorporating a standard for tropical forest programs into the California cap-and-trade regulation as authorized by the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32. This simple act would show the governments of tropical forest regions that their efforts to slow deforestation and speed forest recovery are recognized and may someday be rewarded.

In many places, these governments are already doing their part with surprisingly little recognition. For example, the national and state governments of Brazil have drastically reduced deforestation of the Amazon forest, avoiding more than six billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2005[iii]. This is roughly twenty times what California’s policies and programs will achieve by 2020.

Brazil’s achievement in slowing Amazon deforestation has been accompanied by important social progress as well. The national government has formally recognized and protected new indigenous peoples’ territoriesiii, while Brazilian States, such as Acre, have been leaders in supporting the indigenous peoples who live in their jurisdictions through finance and technical assistance.

We applaud California’s consideration over nearly 10 years of what a tropical forest standard, based on best available science, would look like. Moving forward to adopt this standard in a regulation would inspire and motivate tropical forest governments around the world to put the brakes on the loss and degradation of tropical forests while allowing damaged forests to recover. It would establish the foundation for the first regulated market for carbon emissions reductions from tropical forests, providing an important precedent and example to other states, provinces, and nations that are poised to emulate it.

The high bar that the California Air Resources Board has set for the environmental and social safeguards of this market would inform the design of similar markets under consideration.

In addition to the many environmental and social benefits that the tropical forest standard would incentivize in tropical forest jurisdictions, such as California’s partners in the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, the advantages to California of implementing this tropical forest standard would include important cost-containment in the cap-and-trade program, for example, a safety valve against spikes in electricity prices, and lowering the long-term risks of a changing climate.

We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this important opportunity.

Signed: [listed in alphabetical order]

Ryan Abman
Assistant Professor and Graduate Advisor, Department of Economics, San Diego State University

Greg Asner
Staff Scientist, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science
Professor, Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University

Alessandro Baccini
Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center

Jonah Busch
Visiting Fellow, Center for Global Development

Lisa Curran
Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Professor in Environmental Anthropology, Stanford University

Rodolfo Dirzo
Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Professor, Department of Biology, Stanford University

Amy Duchelle
Senior Scientist, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Phil Duffy
President and Executive Director, Woods Hole Research Center

Andrés Etter
Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Rural Studies, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia

Chris Field
Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Professor for Interdisciplinary Studies, Stanford University
Professor, School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Studies, Stanford University

Aida Greenbury
Greenbury and Associates, High Carbon Stock Approach

Bronson Griscom
Director, Forest Carbon Science, The Nature Conservancy

Laura Hess
Associate Researcher, Earth Research Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Director, Global Change Institute and Professor of Marine Science, The University of Queensland, Australia

Richard A. Houghton
Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center

Daniel Kammen
Professor of Energy, Energy & Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley

Torsten Krause
Associate Senior Lecturer, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, Sweden

Jim Leape
Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Thomas Lovejoy
Senior Fellow, United Nations Foundation
Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University

Katherine Mach
Director, Stanford Environmental Assessment Facility, Stanford University
Senior Research Scientist, Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University
Visiting Investigator, Carnegie Institution for Science

Brendan Mackey
Director, Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, Queensland Australia

David G. McGrath
Senior Scientist and Deputy Director, Earth Innovation Institute

Harold Mooney
Professor, emeritus, Department of Biology, Stanford University

Rosamond Naylor
Director, Center on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University
Professor, Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University
Professor, Economics, Stanford University
Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Dan Nepstad
Senior Scientist and Executive Director, Earth Innovation Institute

Francis E. Putz
Professor, Department of Biology, University of Florida

Stephan Schwartzman
Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy, Environmental Defense Fund

Claudia Stickler
Scientist, Earth Innovation Institute

Reynaldo Luiz Victoria
Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil
Scientific Advisor to the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, Brazil

Michael Wolosin
President, Forest Climate Analytics

Wayne Walker
Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center

Are you a scientist interested in signing?
Send an email to: Dan Nepstad,  dnepstad@earthinnovation.org

[i] Griscom, B. et al (2017). Natural Climate Solutions. PNAS.

[ii] IPCC (2014). Working Group III, Chapter 11. Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use. p20.

[iii] Nepstad, D. et al. (2014) Slowing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon through public policies and interventions in soy and beef supply chains. Science.