Biden-Lugar Legislation to Reauthorize the Tropical Forest Conservation Act Passes Foreign Relations Committee
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Tropical Forest and Coral Conservation Act of 2007, which was introduced last week by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation extends an initiative to protect tropical forests worldwide and broadens the initiative's mandate to include coral reefs.
The legislation, S. 2020, reauthorizes the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 (TFCA) for an additional three years. Since its inception, TFCA has been responsible for conserving over 47 million acres of tropical forests around the world through "debt-for-nature swaps" in developing countries. The inclusion of coral reefs under the scope of TFCA is designed to encourage the conservation of these endangered marine environments as well.
"Tropical forests are essential to our own well-being," said Senator Biden. "They absorb the carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. They support sustainable economic development. They support biodiversity - including the plants from which many medicines are produced. Coral reefs are equally important to our oceans. Leveraging debt forgiveness for environmental protection is a good deal for us, for the developing nations, and for our planet."
As a result of TFCA, the U.S. State Department has been able to reach bilateral agreements with twelve countries to date, resulting in over $137 million in long-term commitments to conserve tropical forests. Encouraged by these agreements, private donors such as the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Conservation International have additionally contributed more than $9.6 million to TFCA swaps. The current reauthorization of TFCA makes it possible to pursue agreements with Brazil and Indonesia to protect their coral reefs, both of which are under severe pressure.
In fact, the reauthorization comes at a propitious time for Indonesia. The Indonesian government is actively developing a regional Coral Triangle Initiative, which will protect an area in the Pacific Ocean known as the "Amazon of the Seas." This area contains more than 75% of all known coral species and features 53% of the world's coral reefs. This Initiative was just endorsed by heads of state in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit last week. This legislation is perfectly poised to assist Indonesia and the region to catalyze this critical initiative.
This legislation authorizes appropriations for debt reduction for eligible countries at $20,000,000 through FY 2008; $25,000,000 in FY 2009; and $30,000,000 in FY 2010.