Photo: Katarina via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
While world leaders were meeting last month in Glasgow to address climate change, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was working on this pressing issue a little closer to home by introducing a bill that would reduce global deforestation.
Announced just one day after President Joe Biden joined more than 100 world leaders in a pledge to reduce global deforestation at this year’s COP26 summit, the America Mitigating and Achieving Zero-emissions Originating from Nature for the 21st Century Act (AMAZON21) would establish a $9 billion trust fund to tackle climate emissions caused by deforestation in developing nations. The legislation would fund governments, nonprofits and private companies to carry out projects that restore degraded forests, and mitigate deforestation and could remove up to an estimated 180 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year, or the equivalent of offsetting emissions from every U.S. passenger vehicle for two years.
This bill is desperately needed. Each year, our planet loses 5 million hectares of forest, nearly twice the size of Maryland. This devastation occurs in hot, humid tropical forests humming with life. It also takes place in tall, temperate forests enveloped in fog and moss, and in the boundless boreal forest, which circles the northern hemisphere in a ring of spruce, firs and jackpines. Globally, forests absorb enough carbon dioxide to offset 1.5 times the amount of carbon emissions released by the United States each year. But, rather than protecting these wild spaces so that they may continue performing this essential climate service, we are removing them at such an alarming rate that they are instead contributing to more than 10% of all human-caused carbon emissions.
Contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo credit: Kate Evans, CIFOR CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Converting forests into land for agriculture or development happens far away from Maryland, but we’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in our state— whether it’s frequent flooding in Annapolis and Baltimore, dangerous temperatures spikes in the summer, worsening hurricanes heading toward our coast, or increased instances of lyme disease. Our consumption of beef, soy, palm oil and wood products contributes to deforestation, but our ability to avoid those products as individual consumers ranges from challenging to impossible. So what can we do? As individuals, it is hard to imagine our actions making a difference in the tropics but as a community, Marylanders have an opportunity to make a positive impact. We cannot pass up smart opportunities — like Rep. Hoyer’s bill — to push back.
Hoyer’s AMAZON21 bill presents an opportunity to protect climate-critical forests, biodiversity and the health of local communities beyond the United States. As the second-highest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, it is our country’s responsibility to not only curb our own emissions and protect our own forests but to also leverage our wealth to fund carbon-mitigation programs in nations that may otherwise tolerate or encourage climate-critical forest loss to bolster their economies.
Rep. Hoyer is offering a federal solution, but local action can also make a difference and Maryland state legislators have an opportunity to reduce our impact on global forests.
Our state lawmakers should take inspiration from other states. For example, California Assemblymember Ash Kalra put forward the Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, which passed his state’s legislature in early September. While Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it in October, the bill would have required businesses working with the state to ensure certain imported commodities were not produced at the expense of tropical forests. Legislation like that has the potential to do more than just fund foreign countries to stop deforestation—they incentivize American institutions to reduce their dependence on commodities that drive deforestation and degradation.
Ending deforestation and forest degradation is essential for our planet and all of its inhabitants. It is a challenge that is going to require many leaders to step up. In Maryland, leaders should follow the lead of Rep. Hoyer and act to protect our forests.