Publication: The Politics of US Forest-Climate Investment

By Climate Advisers
Forests & Lands

Climate Advisers and the Center for Global Development are releasing a new paper today about the US politics of international forest-climate investments. I’ll get to that paper in a moment – but first I’d like to note the historic announcements emerging from Beijing last week. Said Harvard economist and climate negotiation watcher Robert Stavins: “The most important development in the last decade – maybe the last 20 years.” Indeed.

There will be much analysis to come. For now, I’d like to take two things away from the announcement… things I believe provide a relevant lens for our new paper:

  • First: The U.S. pledge is impressive, but there is more that needs to be done to put the world on a safe climate path.
  • Second: When political will is matched with leadership, policies can leap forward, overcoming even significant obstacles that hamper progress.

To be a true climate leader, the United States and other countries that are able need to do more than make serious and ambitious pledges for mitigation at home. They should make very clear and well-defined pledges to achieve additional mitigation through partnerships with developing countries. And if the Obama Administration has the political will to do this, it will overcome the obstacles and make it happen.

The United States both can and should significantly increase its support for reducing tropical forest loss as part of its portfolio of climate action. I’ve been working on this very thing for at least six years, and to me there is a clear connection between these recent examples of overall US climate ambition and climate leadership, and US REDD+ funding.

In this new paper mentioned above – all about the various political, budgetary, and administrative nuances of US REDD+ funding – my coauthor Donna Lee and I take a dispassionate, hard look at the obstacles. And indeed, there are cliffs and crevasses aplenty – pitfalls that attempts at climate action have fallen into before. It’s critical to know where they are. But we also try to peer into the mist and identify potential paths forward. Here are a few.


The US has historically supported REDD+ as part of its climate action. This happened not only because a range of constituencies came together and agreed on the form such support should take – but also because the REDD+ coalition included the engagement of powerful constituencies, not least the business community.

New opportunities are emerging to build a powerful US coalition for REDD+. The last year has seen massive and disruptive change in how global commodity businesses are approaching deforestation. As this revolution advances, companies are turning to governments, asking them to advance the policies necessary for them to reach their commitments, including through a global climate deal with REDD+. Companies have also recognized the special role of the US Government, for example through co-launching the Tropical Forest Alliance. A new coalition that marries these consumer company interests with climate advocates, conservationists and others in a call for US REDD+ investments would be a powerful voice indeed.

The Administration could answer such a call in many potential ways.

It could pursue Clean Air Act regulation of the power sector that includes sufficient flexibility (and stringency) as to allow economic incentives for international REDD+. For example, EPA’s draft rule lets states or regions use Cap and Trade programs like California’s to meet the standards, and California is working towards including REDD+ in its program. The power sector in California will need to meet EPA’s required reductions, but the more comprehensive program will let California be much more ambitious with more economic efficiency than power-sector regulation alone. EPA should encourage states to go further with more comprehensive programs.

It could work with the new Republican Congressional leadership to road-test a results-based foreign assistance program, starting with forests. Both would get something: smarter use of limited funds based on performance (conservatives); additional climate action (the Administration).

Finally, the Administration could pull together existing funding sources into a common purpose, as it has with the Power Africa program – with roles for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and other agencies that can expand the currently limited budget reach of the core agencies involved in REDD+.


These are not the only potential paths forward, and none are simple. But I firmly believe that protecting the world’s forests and climate is critical, and that success is more likely with US leadership than without. We must fully explore every option until we are successful. As we saw with the new US-China announcement, strong political will and leadership can overcome many obstacles.

I hope the new map we provide is helpful, even if the most important parts – the ways forward – remain uncertain. I invite you to join me for the journey.

Read Francis Seymour’s take on the Center for Global Development’s blog. She asks the question, “Will More Red States Constrain More REDD+ Finance?”

US Support for REDD+: Reflections on the Past and Future Outlook
November 2014
This paper by Michael Wolosin and Donna Lee analyzes how various interests, constituencies, and concerns have shaped U.S. financial commitments to REDD+, and opportunities and constraints on future forest-related funding in the broader context of U.S. climate finance.

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On November 17, 2014

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