RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Iowa. I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West.
Minutes into his term, Australia's new prime minister has signed the Kyoto Protocol. That leaves the United States as the only industrialized nation not to sign. The international climate treaty expires in 2012. And today, thousands of experts are in Bali, Indonesia to come up with new ways to curb global warming. One proposal: pay developing countries to stop cutting down trees.
NPR's Christopher Joyce has more.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The idea of paying poor countries not to cut down their forests didn't make it into the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Critics said rich countries should not be able to buy carbon indulgences from poor countries. But now there's a carbon market. Companies that need to cut their emissions can buy the right to pollute by subsidizing things like wind turbines or methane traps at pig farms, but they can't buy trees.
In Bali, countries with forests want to change that.
People like Tasso Azevedo, head of Brazil's Forest Service.
Mr. TASSO AZEVEDO (Director General, Brazilian Forest Service): Large companies that need large quantities of carbon offset to neutralize their emissions, they don't have many options today for large quantities. So this will be an interesting opportunity.
JOYCE: Interesting to the tune of billions of dollars for Brazil. That's how much tracks of Amazon forest could be worth in the carbon market.
Another group looking to get trees into the carbon market is the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. It's run by Kevin Conrad. He's from Papua New Guinea, and he came to Washington recently to support reduced deforestation, and he warned it won't come cheap.
Mr. KEVIN CONRAD (Executive Director, Coalition for Rainforest Nations): We have to keep in mind, the forests are ours. And they're sovereign assets, and they're deriving a lot of revenue for our communities today. And we're not going to put them in a museum for everybody unless we understand, okay, the revenue streams are going to be sufficient, they're going to be sustainable and predictable, that we can begin to grow our economies.
JOYCE: Predictability is also what the potential buyers of these forest offsets want, although maybe another kind of predictability. Pacific Gas and Electric, a major U.S. utility, is interested in the idea of carbon offsets for forests. But Vice President Nancy McFadden says those forests would have to stay saved.
Ms. NANCY McFADDEN (Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Pacific Gas and Electric Company): The key for us with respect to carbon trading and offset projects is that they have to be verifiable. They have to be real, and they have to be long lasting.
JOYCE: Critics of dollars for forests say that may be hard to do. If someone gets carbon credits for saving one patch of forest only to push timber companies to another patch, the atmosphere won't improve. And how long does a forest have to be saved to earn carbon credits? And what happens if a corrupt local official breaks out the chainsaws?
The U.S. government has been cool to the idea of reduced deforestation. But Indonesia, with some of the biggest tropical forests on the planet, appears to like it, says climate analyst Annie Petsonk of Environmental Defense.
Ms. ANNIE PETSONK (International Counsel, Environmental Defense): They may steal a march on the United States by taking the lead and saying we're willing to go forward with programs to cap and cut our greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation if you in the industrialized world open your carbon markets.
JOYCE: Getting forests into a new carbon market may get a big boost at Bali, in part because everything else on the table is so controversial - for example, getting the U.S., China and India to join in any new climate deal. So, negotiators may grease the skids for the forest scheme so they'll have something to show for their two weeks in Bali.
Christopher Joyce, NPR News.