GELLERMAN: One of the most powerful tools in the fight against climate change is the tree. A tree removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and stores it. But if you cut a tree down the CO2 is released back into the air, which is why the world needs to preserve its vast tropical forests - cutting them down releases 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions each year. Now, in a bid to curb deforestation governors from tropical regions have joined with their American counterparts. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.
There's one contributor to climate change that's attracted more attention recently: Deforestation. About twenty percent of the greenhouse gases generated on earth come from carbon released from cutting tropical forests. As Living On Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, governors of tropical forest regions are beginning to join with their American counterparts to stop the cutting.
LOBET: It's no secret that many US state officials are frustrated by the federal government's lack of action on climate change. Some states have been moving ahead with policy on their own.
And in recent days, three U.S. governors, led by California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, went one step further: They held state-to-state talks with governors of major rainforest provinces in Brazil and Indonesia. Peter Seligman of Conservation International noted the occasion.
SELIGMAN: This is an absolutely remarkable gathering, one of those tipping point moments, when you have the governors of the states that control over 50% of the tropical forests on earth gathering with governors of Wisconsin, California and Illinois.
LOBET: At a climate summit in L.A., the Brazilian, Indonesian and American states, signed an agreement to cooperate to preserve tropical forests. They also agreed to work together on the sticky issues of quantifying and monitoring what's being preserved. Forests hold an immense amount of carbon. If tropical regions can guarantee forest protection, they can sell carbon credits to U.S. industry. The devil, all agree, is in the technical details.
SELIGMAN: How do you come up with real, measurable, permanent and verifiable agreements?
LOBET: The presence of governors from Indonesia and Brazil was significant because these two countries are among the top five emitters of CO2 in the world. China and the U.S. rank one and two. And nearly ALL of Indonesia and Brazil's emissions come from forest loss. Governor Eduardo Braga heads the largest forested state in the world, Amazonas in Brazil.
BRAGA: It's like 2.5 times the size of Texas.
LOBET: He said the people who live alongside the forest in Brazil are his nation's most desperate, with incomes only a fraction of the Brazilian national average.
BRAGA: Who lives by the forest, they are the really guardians of our environment. They have $1000 per year per capita income, so they are really poor.
LOBET: Braga says he needs no convincing that working together with industrialized nations is essential. In fact, he says, it's overdue.
BRAGA: The last 20 years our people are waiting for new answers from the world about the forest. Because the world has been asking us: How can we cut the deforestation in Amazons? But the world must ask how the local people can improve the standard of living they have over there.
LOBET: Braga is already working with the Marriot Hotel chain on one income-producing forest protection project. Ana Julia Carepa is governor of the neighboring Brazilian state of Para, where deforestation has been rampant. Satellite monitors are now a help. But she says she awaits the day when her residents can make more money protecting the forest than cutting it.
CAREPA: We want to create reforestation as an economic alternative. We want to reforest one billion trees in five years.
LOBET: The governor of the Indonesian province of Aceh has already struck the first rainforest-for-carbon credit agreement with a conservation group. Yusuf Irwandi, says he's shown it's possible to stop logging altogether, and bring down the rate of poverty.
IRWANDI: When I took office in 2007, I announced the moratorium on logging, still in affect. There are so many concession-holders who want to go chop again my forest. I stop them.
LOBET: The governors face skepticism over the idea of cash for credits. The European Union wants to hold off on forest credits until monitoring and anti-fraud measures develop further. And some indigenous advocates are concerned that forest credits could mean newly valuable forest could be taken away from native people.
But the Indonesian, Brazilian and US governors at the summit say they're pleased to be one step closer to admitting forest credits into an American carbon market.
They hope their state-to-state diplomacy will send a message to national level leaders at climate change talks in Poznan and later Copenhagen, that the issue of forest carbon is not too hot to handle.
For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.