Schemes to offer carbon credits for reducing deforestation rates in developing countries could improve American security by providing stable income to disaffected rural groups, argues a new Council on Foreign Relations report on the impact of climate change on U.S. national security.
Report author Joshua W. Busby of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin says that plans to include Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanisms to international climate change mitigation efforts might have the unintended effect of reducing political instability in rural areas. As an example, Busby cites recent developments in the Indonesian province of Aceh where Governor Irwandi Jusuf, a former rebel who was one of only 40 survivors after the December 2004 tsunami struck the prison where he was incarcerated, has become one of Indonesia’s leading supporters of forest conservation funded through carbon credits.
“Indonesia’s political instability has fostered terrorist groups that may have global ambitions,” he writes. “Managing forestry payments deftly could help to solidify Indonesia’s social order and discourage radicals. In Aceh, for example, the provincial government, led by a former rebel, is seeking support for avoided deforestation as a means of persuading former separatists to protect the forests and refrain from picking up their guns; providing him with the resources he seeks could mitigate both climate change and separatism.”
Busby says that such stability, even in the far reaches of Indonesia, can help reduce risk to Americans.
“The U.S. needs to consider how instability in countries overseas could have national security implications for the United States and whether and how avoided deforestation could play a role in diminishing those risks,” he told mongabay.com. “In terms of U.S. security interests, some unstable countries could become ‘ungoverned spaces’ for anti-American and anti-Western groups to organize attacks. Alternatively, we might see some countries become unstable and sites of internal conflict with large-scale humanitarian problems such as refugees. In these circumstances, the United States, other countries, and the UN may be called on to send troops or logistical support for peace-keeping or relief.”
“It would be far less costly if the international community invested in avoided deforestation to provide poor, developing countries with sustainable sources of revenue rather than reactive military intervention. While it may take a special set of circumstances for avoided deforestation programs to play this important stabilizing role, those situations, like Indonesia, may be particularly significant, both in terms of U.S. national security interests and also for tropical forest conservation.”
Busby says that while avoided deforestation programs are probably best initiated in countries with relatively good governance, the mechanisms could eventually be extended to regions like the Congo where civil strife is still an ongoing concern. Still, he adds, proper oversight to ensure that proceeds from forest carbon offsets actually reach rural populations will be key to successful implementation of REDD initiatives.
“I think it will be especially important to get the compensation mechanisms right. Because so much money ostensibly could be at stake, the pilot project from the World Bank and the subsequent market mechanisms need to make sure that distributional conflict over the resource flows don’t undermine the potential for these funds to provide much needed resources to developing countries,” Busby explained to mongabay.com. “I was dismayed that the U.S. did not offer anything to the World Bank’s pilot program on deforestation and that it plans on cutting funding for the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. In the same way that it has failed to contribute to GEF adaptation funds, the U.S. is demonstrating by its lack of participation and support that it really is not serious about mitigating the problem or assisting other countries in dealing with the effects.”
“If countries like Indonesia are to benefit and if savings from avoided emissions from forestry are to materialize, the United States must play an active role in addressing the remaining technical issues and ensure the pilot program is fully funded,” he writes.
Elsewhere in the paper, titled Climate Change and National Security – An Agenda for Action, Busby argues that the U.S. needs to strengthen national security by reducing vulnerabilities to climate disasters through measures including “no regrets” policies on climate change; investments in infrastructure; disaster risk reduction and adaptation, climate change diplomacy; and institutional reforms such as integrating climate security into the National Security Strategy.
“Domestically, extreme weather events made more likely by climate change could endanger large numbers of people, damage critical infrastructure (including military installations), and require mobilization and diversion of military assets,” said Busby. “The policy proposals presented herehave the potential to strengthen national security by reducing U.S. vulnerabilities to climate change at home and abroad, securing and stabilizing important partners, and contributing to other goals such as energy security and industrial revitalization. In a world of new security challenges, forging a climate policy along these lines must be a national priority,”