Administrator Power at the COP26 Event: U.S. Plans to Conserve Global Forests and Other Critical Carbon Sinks

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Good afternoon. There was a time many decades ago, when scientists were first sounding the alarm about the potential for carbon pollution to heat our planet, when conserving forests and planting trees were seen by some as mere half-measures. Steps that were important to take, but only until some silver-bullet technology came along to shift us off fossil fuels and away from carbon.

Today, well, the world is different. Deforestation and land use such as agriculture account for nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and a majority of emissions in low- and lower-middle income countries. That same activity is driving animals and people into closer contact, throwing ecosystems off-balance and creating new opportunities for outbreaks to start and pandemics to spread.

As President Biden’s Plan to Conserve Global Forests and Critical Carbon Sinks has made clear, conserving tropical forests is no longer merely a stop-gap—it is one of the most important steps we can take to mitigate climate change while reducing the risk of disease spillover and potential future pandemics. Healthy, intact forests are critical for our survival and deliver a wealth of benefits: from the clean air and water they provide, to food and critical medicines. They conserve key biodiversity, store carbon, and shield people from extreme weather, and provide livelihoods to people around the world.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, we are carrying this effort forward, working on the ground with our partners to tackle the climate crisis. That includes work to protect critical carbon sinks like tropical forests and to support the people who rely on them.

People like Razafy Methodien, a spice farmer in Madagascar. Razafy has seen the forest that surrounds his community, and that he relies on for water, shrink year-after-year as the near-by farms expand. In partnership with the spice company McCormick, USAID worked with Razafy and his community to set up cooperatives to grow vanilla, a crop which thrives under thick forest cover, so that they can earn a living without harming their environment.

In a country like Madagascar, where more than 80 percent of plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth, giving farmers another reason to protect forests can help safeguard biodiversity while allowing critical ecosystems to thrive. And those actions go a long way toward combating climate change, too.

That’s because, from a climate perspective, deforestation is a two-fold blow—cutting down forests is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it removes the trees that play an absolutely crucial role in removing carbon already in the air.

That's why I'm pleased to announce that USAID is committing to work with our partners to protect, manage, and reforest 100 million hectares of forests and other critical landscapes by 2030—that is more forest than twice the size of California. And we will also partner with countries to reduce, avoid, or sequester the equivalent of six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, and that is the equivalent of taking more than one billion cars off the road for a year.

A core element of our commitments will be a focus on equity—on engaging with Indigenous Peoples and local communities who live near forest areas so they have a strong voice in policy and programming decisions. So often, protecting forests is presented as a false choice—that local communities must either protect their environment or take advantage of natural resources to grow their incomes. But communities shouldn’t have to choose—they shouldn’t have to choose between the welfare of their people and the health of their environment—they can have both. And so we will do our part, in reaching these commitments to help partner countries and local communities grow without harming our planet.

We will help countries like Indonesia better manage their carbon-rich forests and lands to help them meet their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement while strengthening local livelihoods. We will partner with one of the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers to improve forest restoration in cocoa supply chains throughout the tropics, enriching communities while safeguarding the environment. And to encourage more private investment in protecting and restoring forests, we will work with organizations like Google and NASA to develop more reliable data on forests and lands—a key barrier to attracting capital.

In the coming years, we will work with and learn from many people like Razafy, and leave this world a better place for it. I look forward to the work ahead to meet our ambitious goals to save our planet—alongside Indigenous communities, partner organizations, and all of you, our partners and allies in the world.

Thank you so much.

Last updated: November 29, 2022

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