Why I support the California Tropical Forest Standard (commentary)

Why I support the California Tropical Forest Standard (commentary)

The Amazon is a rich, beautiful, and magical place. I’ve visited this vast region on several occasions to learn about the indigenous communities who live there and protect it, and to raise awareness of their struggle, as part of the organization I co-founded, REVERB. The indigenous leaders I met told me how deeply they depend on a healthy rainforest for their livelihoods and well-being.

Tropical forests are thriving ecosystems that sustain plants, wildlife, and people. Research shows that rainforests also play essential global environmental roles — they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and influence weather patterns in faraway places — including California.

Emperor Tamarin EXPLORE 9714001143
The emperor tamarin is a native of southwest Amazon Basin, found in east Peru, north Bolivia, and the west Brazilian states of Acre and Amazonas. Photo Credit: Steve Wilson, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

How do we support the indigenous communities in their fight to protect the forest — their home and a system that we all need? California provides one possible answer. This week, California’s Air Resources Board, or CARB, will vote on whether or not to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard.

Deforestation and forest degradation cause forests to release their stored carbon, elevating the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and worsening global warming. As the rainforest disappears, precipitation in the Sierra Nevada is projected to decline by up to 20 percent, and snowpack by up to 50 percent. At current rates, deforestation could trigger a tipping point that will make rainfall ever less reliable.

Protecting forested lands, on the other hand, reduces the carbon pollution produced by their destruction and takes additional carbon out of the atmosphere. This combination provides up to a third of the climate results to keep global warming below the Paris Agreement target of 2°C by 2030. Anything above 2°C would be catastrophic. Simply put, we cannot address climate change without stopping deforestation. If we don’t address climate change, and we don’t slow the destruction of Earth’s tropical forests, we will put much of the world’s species and ourselves in danger.

Sadly, as shown by the recent uptick in global rates of forest destruction, coupled with the fires in the Amazon and the Congo, rainforests are disappearing at alarming rates. We know farmers and ranchers set many of the fires in the Amazon on purpose, because there is more value placed on burning and tearing down the Amazon than in the vital environmental services it provides.

Indigenous communities of the Amazon are known as the defenders of the forest. Because they have lived from and in the forest for eons, they are also at the front lines in the fight against deforestation. Often, the only line of defense between a dead forest and thriving one are the indigenous communities who protect it — and they can do so most effectively on protected indigenous lands and with adequate resources.

Indigenous communities struggle to protect their lands and keep the forests alive. They’re often under threat of violence. In too many cases, they’ve lacked political backing — a situation that’s only become worse in Brazil with the federal government now dominated by ag-focused politicians backed by wealthy agriculture interests, and the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro, a president who is keen on “developing” the rainforest. Bolsonaro has already substantially cut funding for the government agencies tasked with enforcing protected lands, and his rhetoric has emboldened would-be land grabbers to encroach on protected areas.

California’s Tropical Forest Standard is a set of guidelines that require forest protection programs across tropical jurisdictions to have high environmental quality and adhere to strict social safeguards that ensure indigenous and other traditional forest communities are key partners in government programs to protect forests — and benefit from them as well. Programs that meet these guidelines would be eligible to be traded in carbon markets — potentially including California’s carbon market under its successful cap-and-trade program.

Although the Standard wouldn’t immediately link tropical forest protection programs to California’s cap-and-trade market, its adoption would be a major step forward for tropical forests and the communities who have lived in, defended, and sustainably managed them for generations.

The Standard would be a key step to allow funding to flow to regions and states partnering with indigenous communities of the Amazon and other rainforests to reduce deforestation pressures on indigenous lands and develop sustainable economic alternatives across their jurisdictions. By endorsing the Standard, the Air Resources Board can send a strong signal of support for responsible forest management and protection, and for the indigenous communities who protect them.

Please let CARB know the importance of its decision. Please sign the petition calling on CARB to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard.


• Griscom, B. W., Adams, J., Ellis, P. W., Houghton, R. A., Lomax, G., Miteva, D. A., … & Woodbury, P. (2017). Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(44), 11645-11650. doi:10.1073/pnas.1710465114

• Lovejoy, T. E., & Nobre, C. (2018). Amazon tipping point. Science Advances 4. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aat2340

• Medvigy, D., Walko, R. L., Otte, M. J., & Avissar, R. (2013). Simulated changes in northwest US climate in response to Amazon deforestation. Journal of Climate, 26, 9115-9136. doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00775.1

This article by Adam Gardner, co-founder and co-director of REVERB and guitarist for the band Guster, was first published on Mongabay.com on 16 September 2019.


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