Protecting nature — a bright spot from Glasgow

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It’s up for debate whether the latest chapter in the global climate talks was a “success.” 

But what is indisputable is that one outcome from COP26, the UN climate conference in Glasgow, will reverberate for years to come: For perhaps the first time at any Conference of the Parties (COP), the climate-fighting power of nature took center stage.

And now, a plan has emerged that could seize on this moment.

Last week, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) introduced a bill called the America Mitigating and Achieving Zero-emissions Originating from Nature for the 21st Century Act (AMAZON21). This bold legislation would directly respond to the growing threats against our planet’s most carbon-rich and biodiverse landscapes.

Not many bills in Congress are focused on carbon. But this one is, and with good reason: Research out this week from Conservation International shows there are some ecosystems on Earth that contain so much climate-warming carbon that humanity must protect them from destruction or face climate doom. Their destruction would release large amounts of greenhouse gases — which is entirely preventable and would worsen climate change.

Even if we stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, we won’t meet the goals of the Paris Agreement unless we protect nature, so it’s fair to say that these places — including the very biome that the bill is named after — hold the key to our climate future.

At its core, AMAZON21 confronts the climate crisis by boosting investments in nature conservation. Science has shown that protecting natural ecosystems could deliver one-third of the global emissions reductions needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change, yet nature-based solutions currently receive a paltry 3 percent of global climate funding. AMAZON21 addresses this gross inequity through two innovative approaches.

First, AMAZON21 would provide grants to countries that can demonstrate protection of their forests and other natural carbon sinks, establishing a trust fund to finance bilateral forest-conservation and terrestrial carbon-sequestration projects at national and subnational levels. It’s not a blank check: To receive these “results-based payments,” countries must agree to strict monitoring, reporting and verification requirements.

The second approach benefits tropical forests and well-meaning companies looking to reduce their carbon footprints by accelerating the growth of carbon markets. As the name implies, carbon markets are trading systems where units of carbon (“credits”) are sold by landowners in carbon-rich areas and bought by those looking to compensate for their own carbon footprints. The challenge is that many countries around the world — including those rich in natural carbon reserves — lack the technical capacity to participate in carbon trading.

This is where AMAZON21 comes in. Under the legislation, the U.S. Agency for International Development would provide technical assistance to developing countries to help them acquire the administrative and legal capacity to participate in carbon markets. At the other end of the market: a growing list of companies eager to purchase carbon credits. Demand is growing rapidly as recent reports indicate that the voluntary carbon market is on track to hit $1 billion USD in transactions this year. 

Hoyer’s legislation could not have been more perfectly timed. One of the real achievements on the final day of Glasgow was the completion of a provision in the Paris Agreement that had eluded negotiators for years — the establishment of rules for carbon trading under what is known as Article 6. After six years, countries finally agreed on a set of accounting principles for the trading of carbon credits — potentially a massive source of finance for poor and heavily forested countries. Hoyer’s legislation would provide technical assistance to countries looking to do that very thing. 

Hoyer’s leadership on climate finance is a much needed shot of adrenaline just days after a report revealed that wealthy countries will fall short of their pledge to provide $ 100 billion to help developing countries cope with climate change. The disappointing announcement further underscores the need to unlock private-sector funds — which AMAZON21 does.

The bill’s backers are hopeful for its prospects: U.S. policymakers have long supported efforts to encourage developing countries to engage in conservation. Under the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act and its predecessor, the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, legislators and presidents from both parties — including former President Trump — have approved hundreds of millions in congressionally appropriated funds being used to protect tropical forests in developing countries. 

Moreover, AMAZON21 is an ideal complement to the nature/forest conservation plan announced by President Biden in Glasgow. The president’s strategy is to incentivize countries toward forest conservation, generate private-sector investment and build developing-country capacity — all components of Hoyer’s legislation.

Rachel Carson, the pioneering conservationist, famously warned that “man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

As the world gets to work after Glasgow, this legislation offers a powerful and immediate opportunity to answer Carson’s call and create a stable climate future.

James Roth is senior vice president of global policy and government affairs at Conservation International.

Tags Climate change COP26 Donald Trump Global warming greenhouse gases James Roth Joe Biden Nature Steny Hoyer

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