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Nobel Peace Laureates Al Gore and Wangari Maathai Warn of Threat to National Security and Stability Without U.S. Leadership on Deforestation

September 22, 2008

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Al Gore and Wangari Maathai today called upon the United States to combat rapidly accelerating tropical deforestation as a central element in the fight against global poverty, climate change and international instability.

At a luncheon hosted by the Avoided Deforestation Partners, Former Vice President Gore joined Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and 2004 Peace Prize winner, to emphasize the role deforestation plays in poverty, conflict and increasing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. The Nobel laureates were joined by leaders from the environmental and development communities, who stressed the scientific and social importance of these resources to global well-being.

“We have to start reducing our pollution and substituting renewable sources of energy,” Gore said. “But, we also have to provide the means for stopping deforestation. One of the most effective things we can do in the near term to address the climate crisis is to protect the world’s tropical forests.”

Deforestation is currently responsible for about 20 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes and ships combined – and rates of tropical forest loss have increased significantly. A recent report showed that Amazon deforestation has risen 69% over the past year. Worldwide, one acre of tropical forest is lost every second.

Professor Maathai stressed the significance of protecting tropical forests for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

“The world’s remaining tropical forests must be protected, because without them not only will the global climate not be stabilized, but the entire world will suffer,” she said. “This is particularly true for many in the global south, where protecting forests is not only about conservation but also about economic development. Forests are the source of livelihoods, water and energy, and in most places they host abundant biodiversity that attracts tourism income. Destruction of forests in many places has jeopardized key economic sectors.”

Leading voices from the environmental and development worlds discussed the indispensable role tropical forests play in both the global ecosystem and economy.

Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, said, “Deforestation disproportionately affects some of the world’s poorest communities. The wholesale cutting of tropical forests robs vulnerable people of their livelihoods and their identities, creating mobile populations that are prone to hunger, disease and conflict. It is crucial that the U.S. take a leadership role in fighting this cycle of destruction and poverty.”

As the world’s largest consumer of resources and a potential leader of efforts to combat climate change and poverty, the United States has a central role to play in protecting tropical forests, the speakers argued. They urged U.S. policy makers and the next administration to incorporate forest protection into any upcoming domestic climate legislation.

“Meeting the climate challenge requires swift and deep reductions in heat-trapping emissions from both deforestation and burning fossil fuels,” said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Developing countries are seeking to preserve their forests, and the United States has a unique opportunity and responsibility to help them do so. The U.S. Congress must act quickly to pass comprehensive climate policy that achieves reductions from all major sources of heat-trapping emissions.”

“There is no silver bullet for resolving the climate crisis,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “We need a broad effort that targets all sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical deforestation, which accounts for nearly a fifth of global emissions, obviously must be an integral part of a comprehensive climate change strategy.”

Jeff Horowitz, Founder of Avoided Deforestation Partners, which convened these leading voices on the issue, remarked upon the growing scientific and political consensus about the importance of halting tropical deforestation.

“A decade ago, ‘saving the rainforest’ was something that many acknowledged we should do. Now that we have undeniable evidence of the connection between forests, climate and conflict, it is clear this is something we must do. Otherwise, we face unacceptable security risks from catastrophic climate change, dangerous regional conflicts and widespread humanitarian disasters.”

The event featured closing remarks by former U.S. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who noted that the groups have begun developing a “Call to Action” on deforestation for U.S. policymakers.

“This is the beginning of a very significant conversation between the world’s leading poverty and environment groups,” said Eizenstat. “The fact that two communities that have not always seen eye-to-eye are joining together on this issue proves how crucial tropical forests are to global stability and prosperity. It will be up to the next President and Congress to heed these groups’ call to action and make reducing tropical deforestation a central element of U.S. climate policy. The EU must also join tropical forest nations to embrace the role that avoided deforestation can play in combating climate change and poverty.”

About Avoided Deforestation Partners

ADP is an international network of thinkers and strategists, founded by leaders in carbon policy, finance, forestry and conservation in May 2007 to support international efforts to halt tropical deforestation. ADP promotes the adoption of a policy framework that creates robust and efficient mechanisms that motivate investments to avoid further deforestation. More information can be found at www.adpartners.org.

About CARE

CARE fights root causes of poverty in the world’s poorest communities. We place special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. More information available at www.care.org.

About the Green Belt Movement

Founded more than 30 years ago by Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) began in Kenya as a way of encouraging communities to plant trees as a symbol of their commitment to changing their lives and environment. Today, GBM draws on a growing network of 6,000 community groups in Kenya to plant trees and protect the commons. In so doing they have improved the quality of their lives and that of their families. Learn more at www.greenbeltmovement.org.

About the Union of Concerned Scientists

Founded in 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, UCS also has offices in Berkeley, Chicago and Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.

About World Wildlife Fund

WWF is the world’s largest conservation organization, working in 100 countries for nearly half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, stop the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.




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