Bush Administration misleads public on deforestation effort
May 21, 2006
The Bush Administration is misleading the American public and the United Nations about its efforts to address tropical deforestation according to analysis by the Tropical Forest Group, an environmental advocacy group based in Santa Barbara, California.
The Tropical Forest Group alleges that the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), a key initiative to reduce carbon emissions and tropical deforestation, has been neglected for a year and a half despite recent claims by the Bush Administration that it was actively supporting the program.
The Tropical Forest Group says that the Administration issued two official reports in April – one to a U.N. body and another for the American public on Earth Day.
The first, “Submission of the United States: Views on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries: Approaches to Stimulate Action”, was sent to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and reads “the United States has made a significant and sustained commitment to helping tropical countries conserve and protect their forest resources.”
The second statement, issued by the State Department on April 21, 2006 -- the day before Earth Day -- is titled “Bush Administration Launches New Global Conservation Initiatives” and states “…the Bush Administration, assisted by the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), has launched new global initiatives and partnerships, including those highlighted here.” The statement claims “the US is contributing or generating $150 million to conserve tropical forests worldwide” through the TFCA and the President’s Initiative Against Illegal logging.
The Tropical Forest Group contends that these statements are misleading at best. According to their analysis the administration has committed far less money to these efforts and has not signed a new TFCA conservation agreement in 18 months.
Hayley Nyeholt, TFG’s associate director says, “I don't see how the Administration can make these proclamations with a straight face. They put $4 million into the President’s illegal logging initiative. $20 million was allocated to the TFCA this year."
The Tropical Forest Group report goes on to urge the administration to fully fund the TFCA at $70 million a year and actually use the money for its stated purpose, saving tropical forests.
The Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) was enacted in 1998 to offer eligible developing countries forego paying back debt owed to the U.S. in exchange for supporting local tropical forest conservation activities. To date six countries -- Bangladesh, Belize, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and the Philippines -- have signed TFCA agreements. The State Department says that these deals will deals will generate over $60 million for tropical forest conservation over the life of the agreements. A TFCA agreement can be structured as debt reduction, debt buyback, or debt-for-nature swap, according to the State Department web site.
According to U.N. data, tropical deforestation rates increased 8.5 percent from 2000-2005 when compared with the 1990s, while loss of primary forests expanded by almost 24 percent over the same period. Overall, the U.N. estimates that 10.40 million hectares of tropical forest were permanently destroyed each year in the period from 2000 to 2005, an increase since the 1990-2000 period, when around 10.16 million hectares of forest were lost. Among primary forests, annual deforestation rose to 6.26 million hectares from 5.41 million hectares in the same period. On a broader scale, U.N. data shows that primary forests are being replaced by less biodiverse plantations and secondary forests. Due to a significant increase in plantation forests, forest cover has generally been expanding in North America, Europe and China while diminishing in the tropics. Industrial logging, conversion for agriculture (commercial and subsistence), and forest fires -- often purposely set by people -- are responsible for the bulk of global deforestation today.
Tropical forests are the world's most biodiverse ecosystems. Scientists are concerned that tropical deforestation is contributing to global warming and causing a mass extinction event not seen since the dawn of civilization.