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Bilateral effort sought to curb deforestation

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-23 10:51

Environmental experts at a recent online conference called on the US and China to collaborate to tackle global illegal deforestation, an issue that both nations pledged to support at last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Jason Gray, director of the governors' climate and forests task force (GCF Task Force) at the UCLA School of Law, said during a Sept 8 webinar that supporting jurisdictional approaches to deforestation is an important action that the US and China could take to protect the global forests.

"Action on the ground is essential for addressing the tropical deforestation challenge. States and provincial governments are really closest to their specific contexts into the potential drivers of deforestation and mechanisms to address it, and their efforts are really necessary to meet both national-level goals but also global ambitions," he said.

The GCF is a subnational collaboration task force that consists of 39 states and provinces working together to protect tropical forests, reduce emissions from deforestation, develop methods for forest management, among other goals, Gray said.

He listed a number of ways that China and the US could support those jurisdictions, including through better tools for monitoring, supporting capacity-building and training, and implementing robust accounting standards.

"These are all useful things that the US government and the Chinese government could help on and are helping on already," he said.

Despite their political differences, China and the US have been cooperating on climate change and clean energy for several decades. In 2014, the two countries made a landmark announcement to work together to curb carbon emissions.

It paved the way for the Paris Agreement, a binding multilateral treaty on climate change adopted during the UN Climate Change Conference the following year. The agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

During the UN COP26 Conference in Glasgow last year, the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and pledged continual collaboration to slow global warming. The joint announcement came despite their existing tensions in other areas.

Both nations also joined more 100 other nations in signing the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which aims to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

In August, China suspended all climate talks to the US in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

The panel at the webinar, hosted by the California-China Climate Institute, encouraged the two countries to set aside their differences and broaden their collaboration to combat global deforestation while building on existing mechanisms addressing illegal imports in both nations.

Gray highlighted some paths the two countries could take to further cooperation, including targeting various drivers of deforestation, and working with other nations and companies to develop traceable supply chains.

He also suggested facilitating knowledge exchange between leading Chinese and American commodity trading companies and financial institutions to speed up actions to address deforestation.

"As companies in the US and China are trading companies, that would be something that would be very helpful to work through with them on accelerating cleaner supply chain action," he said.

There are increasing efforts and dedications within China to stop deforestation, said Dimitri de Boer, chief representative for China at ClientEarth, an environmental law charity headquartered in London.

"What I've seen in China recently is that, for example, greening the Belt and Road Initiative has made a lot of progress, not through legislation, but through very clear policy signals from the leadership combined with guidance documents," he said.

Because the state-owned sector is very important in China, those signals are taken seriously, and the guidance documents are actually effective at causing a quick change in behavior, de Boer said.

"I think just looking at the context in China being quite different from the US or Europe, we should be very open to different types of approaches, and different things may be very effective in China," he said.

Gray noted that one of the biggest members in the GCF Task Force is Mato Grosso, a Brazilian state known for being a large soy and cattle producer. China is one of the main purchasers from that jurisdiction, and commodity companies in China work with the Mato Grosso sellers to reduce deforestation in imports, he said.

"I think there are some enabling conditions that may not be legal-based but are policy signals from the government that can help on that," Gray said.

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