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Climate change and development are closely intertwined. Poor people in developing countries will feel the impacts first and worst (and already are) because of vulnerable geography and lesser ability to cope with damage from severe weather and rising sea levels. In short, climate change will be awful for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.
Preventing dangerous climate change is critical for promoting global development. And saving tropical forests is essential to doing both. Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch's new book, Why Forests? Why Now?, illustrates how today—more than ever—saving forests is more feasible, affordable, and urgent.
Historically, the responsibility for climate change, though, rested with the rich countries that emitted greenhouse gases unimpeded from the Industrial Revolution on — and become rich by doing so. Now, some of the most quickly developing countries have become major emitter themselves just as all countries are compelled by the common good to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A major challenge of reaching a global deal on climate change was to find a way for poor countries to continue developing under the planetary carbon limits that rich countries have already pushed too far. That will involve scaling up finance to deploy clean technologies, to adapt to the effects of climate change, and to compensate countries that provide the global public good of reducing emissions, especially by reducing tropical deforestation.
CGD’s research and policy engagement on climate and development has had two aims: to strengthen the intellectual foundation for a viable international accord to come out of the COP 21 in Paris and to provide data, research, and analysis that policymakers and others can act upon even in the absence of an international agreement.
A decision by President Trump to remove the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement would be a shameful act of self-harm. The decision would hurt everyone in the world, and poor people most, by making it harder to avoid a future of bigger storms and fires, disappearing coastlines, and tougher crop-growing conditions. But the most severe and immediate harm would be to the United States, which by banishing itself from the community of nations trying to prevent dangerous climate change would irrevocably damage its global standing.
Most discussions of the linkage between forests and poverty—including one last week at the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF)—focus on how to increase income to poor households from the harvest and sale of forest products. But at least as much attention should be paid to forest destruction as a pathway to the further immiseration of poor people.
The international forest and climate communities have placed high hopes on the potential for compliance carbon markets to generate funding to reduce tropical deforestation through international forest offsets. At a meeting last week in San Francisco on “Navigating the American Carbon World” (NACW) it seemed as if these hopes are likely to be dashed. Or at least not realized in time to save the vast tropical forests in time for them to play a significant role in combatting dangerous climate change.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) could begin offering results-based payments for protecting and restoring tropical forests as early as July. That’s good news for developing countries, where tropical deforestation can be nearly half of low-cost emission reductions. Yet funding to protect forests remains low and slow, as Frances Seymour and I explain in our book, Why Forests? Why Now? As the GCF moves to enable results-based payments for forests, earlier initiatives offer valuable lessons on two things the GCF should—and can—get right: 1) keep rules simple, and 2) recognize that institutional procedures built for upfront investments may not always be appropriate for results-based payments.
Just ahead of the annual World Bank/IMF spring meetings, the Bank’s new CEO, Kristalina Georgieva, spoke with me about a new way of thinking at the 72-year-old institution. The Bank has renewed ambition, she told me, to be a catalyst for massive transformative investment in development. She went on to lay out how the Bank plans to do that in this edition of the CGD Podcast.