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The Urgent Need to Protect Tropical Forests and our Climate

I want to thank Avoided Deforestation Partners for holding this event and inviting me to join all of the distinguished speakers here today in urging the adoption of REDD plus as part of a global climate framework.

We are encouraged by the progress being made here in moving REDD forward.  The United States believes an agreed outcome in Copenhagen should include REDD.  Our negotiating team is working hard to make this happen.

Protecting the world’s forests is not a luxury.  It is a necessity.

Tropical rainforests, in particular, are of special importance. These forests are vital to the protection and storage of water.  The forests of the Amazon alone provide 15%-20% of the water that flows from the world’s rivers into our oceans.

Tropical rainforests are also reservoirs of biodiversity, covering 2% of the world’s surface but containing half of the world’s plants and animals.

And, tropical rainforests are vitally important to the livelihood of many living in the world’s rural areas. By creating well-designed policies that value those forests, local people and communities can share in the economic benefits of forest conservation and environmental stewardship.

As evidenced by the gathering here in Copenhagen, protecting the world’s climate is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime.  Forests have a vital role to play in overcoming this challenge.  Rainforests store vast amounts of carbon.  That’s true across the planet, and in America, too.  Our Tongass National Forest, a temperate Alaskan rainforest comprises only 2% of America’s forest land base, but may hold as much as 8% of all the carbon contained in the forests of the United States.

Beyond the negative consequences of deforestation, it will be very difficult to protect the world’s climate, without protecting and restoring our forests. We lose more than 13 million hectares of tropical forests annually, and as we’ve heard today, the consequences are enormous, approximately 17% of global warming emissions coming from deforestation.

Protecting the world’s forests will require significant capital.  We believe that valuing carbon in forests through a well-designed carbon market can provide one of the best opportunities we have to dramatically slow down forest loss and degradation in developing countries.  Of course, capital alone isn’t enough.  We must develop accurate forest inventories.  We must learn to balance local development with forest conservation.  And we must build local capacity so that countries are ready to participate in REDD markets and activities.

The Obama Administration and United States is committed to working with our international partners to protect these forests across the globe.  Today the State Department¸ USAID, and USDA’s Forest Service are already working with the governments of Ghana, Nepal, Mexico and others to learn how REDD plus can be implemented on the ground and we expect to ramp up these programs in the near future.  This includes improvements in carbon inventories, systems for paying for ecosystem services, and assistance in helping forests adapt to a changing climate.

While REDD can make it possible for developing countries to protect their forests, developed countries must also recognize their own responsibility towards their own lands.  In the United States, the Obama Administration is taking steps to protect and restore our forests in order to sustain our climate and our water resources.  This week, the US Forest Service will formally announce a process for development of a new forest planning rule to govern the way we manage our publicly-owned National Forests, all 193 million acres.  Moving forward, forest restoration, climate mitigation and adaption will be central components of how we manage our National Forests.

The Obama Administration has also taken steps to protect roadless areas on our National Forests – these areas not only store carbon, but are critical in conserving water and wildlife.  And, we recognize the importance of protecting our privately-owned forests many of which are threatened by suburbanization and fragmentation.

Our domestic efforts are important, but internationally we must move quickly to make it possible for developing countries to address deforestation.  We recognize the significant role that international public finance must play in supporting developing countries efforts to slow, halt and reverse deforestation.  That’s why I’m pleased to announce that the United States is committing one billion dollars over the next three years for fast start of REDD.  We regard this as an initial investment to build the capacity in these countries and undertake efforts to slow deforestation.  These funds will be available for countries that develop ambitious REDD-plus plans addressing deforestation and forest degradation, according to their respective capabilities.  We encourage other donors to join us in supporting forest countries to ensure early action on REDD-plus becomes a reality.

The United States is committed to protecting and restoring its forests as well as helping our international partners do the same.  It is imperative that we sustain our forests everywhere so that they, in turn, can sustain us.

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