N.Y. can protect tropical forests

As advocates and leaders from around the world gather in New York for the annual Climate Week NYC to address the urgent environmental challenges facing our planet, we must not overlook the vital role that deforestation plays in our global climate and biodiversity crises. Deforestation isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a global catastrophe that threatens our planet’s future and the well-being of generations to come.

We are two individuals from two very different parts of the world. One of us is a state senator representing Manhattan at the state Capitol in Albany, while the other is a Shuar Indigenous land defender from the Amazon. Yet despite our different contexts, we are united on a mission to stop deforestation in the world’s tropical forests — a critical effort to defend frontline communities, protect biodiversity, and curb the climate emergency.

To further that mission, the New York State Legislature recently passed the New York Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, and we are now urging Gov. Hochul to sign it into law. This bill will ensure that New York State procurement does not drive tropical deforestation, by closing loopholes in an existing ban on the use of tropical hardwoods and creating a new law requiring state contractors who deal in tropical forest-risk commodities to certify their products don’t drive deforestation.

Deforestation is responsible for a staggering 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, it intensifies extreme weather events and jeopardizes biodiversity and human rights, particularly those of Indigenous Peoples and local communities residing in forested regions.

The best way to protect tropical forests is to leave them under the guardianship of the Indigenous communities who call them home. That’s why the streets of New York are filled this week with Indigenous leaders sounding the alarm and offering up the wisdom needed to navigate this critical moment.

Our world is more interconnected than ever before. The pollution caused by deforestation reaches across borders, affecting the air we breathe and the stability of our climate everywhere. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the destruction happening in distant rainforests; it is an assault on our shared home.

Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus on the urgency of tackling deforestation, policymakers around the world have been sluggish to respond. The consequences of this inaction are glaringly evident, with climate-related disasters, such as the recent extreme weather events in New York, inflicting substantial environmental and economic damage.

The New York Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act is an audacious and imperative response to this crisis. It will hold businesses providing goods or services to the state of New York accountable for their environmental practices, ensuring they do not contribute to tropical forest degradation. As two leaders who care deeply about mitigating the climate crisis, we see the governor’s signature as an historic opportunity to protect our planet.

What’s good for the rainforest can also be good for New York. While promising to protect forests in the tropics, this bill will also incentivize small and medium-sized businesses, and women and minority-owned companies to adopt sustainable sourcing practices. If signed into law it will be a win-win for our local economy and our global climate.

The act’s requirements are not only practical but attainable. New York’s park benches and boardwalks don’t need to be built with tropical hardwoods, when alternatives such as recycled plastic lumber are available, more durable and cost-effective.

Businesses contracting with the state aren’t expected to be infallible, but must simply meet due diligence standards. Similar legislation that recently passed in the European Union and France paves the way for a global trend towards supply chain traceability, making implementation even easier here in New York.

Inaction is no longer a luxury we can afford. The recent choking wildfire smoke and deadly 1,000 year floods in New York are stark reminders of the consequences of climate change. By enacting the NY Tropical Deforestation-Free Procurement Act and to help the countries of the Amazon, the state can signal to the global marketplace that sustainable supply chains must become the norm.

By signing this legislation into law, Gov. Hochul can build on New York’s record of commitment to environmental justice. New York’s leadership will inspire other states and nations to follow suit. There is simply no more time to wait — we must act now.

Krueger is a state senator representing parts of Manhattan. Jintiach is executive secretary of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, and climate change and biodiversity advisor to the coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and a member of the Shuar, an indigenous group in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.

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