The next decade requires unprecedented leadership if we are to meet the challenges of the next #30Harvests and tackle climate change. Farmers and ranchers are among the most at risk to climate change but also steward the potential to cycle carbon and sequester it.
That’s why more than ever they’re using climate-smart practices to make their businesses and the planet more resilient. But bringing those solutions to scale requires far greater resources than we’ve deployed to date. That’s where transformative investment comes into the picture.
Investors are waking up to that possibility. ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) funds are growing at $2 trillion per year. Yet, as we discovered in producing this report, agriculture is typically not part of these ESG portfolios. For example, in Q3 of 2020 alone, there was $10 billion in corporate support for green bond issuance and agriculture was not included at the table. That is a huge missed opportunity, with agriculture as a key sector that can contribute to positive impact.
How big is that potential? There is some $972 billion flowing annually into the agriculture value chain. That was an eye-opener. We didn’t realize all the different ways that private sector investment is influencing and interacting with our farmers, but in order to achieve our goals we need to encourage transformative investment from the finance sector towards our shared goals. Innovative financial mechanisms like green bonds and community finance could help farmers and ranchers tap into that capital.
New forms of investment would allow agriculture to realize the vision of enabling a net-zero economy, and the promise of carbon drawdown, by scaling up climate-smart agriculture practices. Just as the renewable energy sector benefited from renewable energy credits and tradeable credits, and innovative fintech strategies, the ag sector could benefit from the same approach. And investors benefit from a more diversified ESG portfolio.
There are signs things are changing. We are excited that the U.S. SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, in 2020 for the first time named sustainable natural resources/agriculture as one of the top three specific areas of interest for money managers and institutional investors.
This is an encouraging sign. Agriculture has both the innovation and the people-based commitment and values to act on the UN Sustainable Development Goals for the next decade.
But we can’t do it without addressing the economic equation of the sustainability conversation.
This report is an initial examination of what will be a long-term effort to bring farmers and ranchers and the financial community into productive conversation that leads to real solutions.
As a call to action to leaders in the financial sector, we’d like to see them:
Recognize that agriculture can be a solution to both society and the planet, on all levels of the Triple Bottom Line: social, environmental and economic.
Get involved in the Decade of Agriculture, where the urgency of acting on climate change demands all hands on deck.
Advance the financial innovation necessary to meet the broad needs of climate-smart agriculture
Join farmers and ranchers on a journey to understand how agriculture can become part of their broad investment portfolio to enable a U.S. net-zero economy.
If we get this right, we could put the U.S. agriculture sector on the road to becoming the first net negative GHG emissions sector in the economy for our future. And that’s a huge win for everyone.
Erin Fitzgerald is the Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action.
Did you know that America’s forests already capture and store almost fifteen percent of our nation’s carbon emissions each year? There are many actions we must take to protect and build this natural carbon sink. But there is one forest-climate solution that surpasses them all: reforestation.
To understand the importance of reforestation, take a flight with me over America’s forests.
As we take off from the Pacific Coast, you see the millions of acres of western forests that have been devastated by climate-fueled wildfires burning so hot and extensively that in some places no forest can regrow without our help.
In the heartland, we fly over vast bottomlands along the Mississippi River and Lower Rio Grande River that were once cleared for agriculture, but now have large areas ready to be replanted into forest because climate change has rendered them too wet or too dry to grow crops.
All across America we have lands like these that need to be reforested. On average, each tree we add to the land will sequester 1240 pounds of carbon dioxide!
You on board? Here are three key steps to reforest America.
Reforest Public Lands. Many of the lands that are ready for reforestation are already yours and mine—public lands owned by federal, state and local government. According to the Reforestation Hub mapping tool developed by American Forests and The Nature Conservancy, there are already almost 20 million acres of public lands awaiting reforestation, if our governments will only spend the money to reforest them. This acreage in need will likely grow thanks to public lands to be acquired for the new federal “30×30” initiative to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. We can fully reforest our public lands by advocating for public policies like the REPLANT Act and the Climate Stewardship Act that would provide permanent, dedicated funding for this purpose.
Put Some Carbon in the Bank. More than half of America’s forests are in private hands, with the largest portion controlled by family landowners who own smaller properties. So how do we put all of these lands to work for climate? The Biden-Harris Administration has an emerging initiative to establish a Carbon Bank within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would purchase carbon emissions reductions from private landowners. This Carbon Bank could offer much needed flexibility to get diverse forest-climate practices implemented on the ground while minimizing complex and expensive paperwork for landowners. This novel new approach will need strong public support to come to fruition.
Private Sector Pitches In: The private sector, from companies to non-profits, has quietly become a force in funding reforestation on public and private lands alike. Want proof? In August of 2020, the new U.S. Chapter of 1t.org was launched to bring together all of the diverse leaders in this movement, from governments to Girl Scouts, with the shared goal to help conserve, restore, and grow a trillion trees by 2030. In less than a year, we already have secured more than 40 pledges totaling over one billion trees, plus billions of dollars in supporting actions such as carbon finance, technology, and workforce development. This powerful new platform is actively recruiting new partners to step up and make a pledge, and rapidly building out a community of practice so the partners can learn from each other, innovate together, and partner in new ways. We need to keep pulling all hands on deck, and there is a place for you!
Taking these three steps to accelerate reforestation is not purely about environmental benefits. Research has shown each $1 million invested in forest restoration supports as many as 39.7 direct, indirect and induced jobs. The Biden-Harris Administration’s announcement of a new Civilian Climate Corps will help make sure we engage, train and employ the people who need these job opportunities most in the ongoing economic recovery from Covid-19.
Perhaps most importantly, taking these steps together to reforest America can also help address our profound and urgent need to reunite as a country. That is why American Forests has joined the U.S. Nature4Climate coalition, which is bringing together forest owners, farmers, businesses and environmental organizations – because we are stronger when we work together to solve our problems. Our forests have always been common ground, and the vision to build back better together can take root in this fertile soil. Let’s ramp up reforestation as “One Nation Under Trees”.
Jad Daley is the President & CEO of American Forests.
A new mapping tool shows lowers costs and more feasible options for restoring forests in the U.S.
This summer I stopped weeding out the tree seedlings that routinely pop up in the garden beds behind my Maryland home. During those weeks of stay-at-home orders, I let red buds and oaks, rather than tomatoes and flowers, stretch towards the sky. It was not laziness, but the birth of my second daughter that triggered the decision.
My day job is to worry about providing the best science for tackling climate change and my all-the-time job is to worry about my daughters’ future. During a year when many of us felt pretty helpless in the face of COVID-19, turning my postage stamp yard into a mini urban reforestation project represented something I could do. I could let those tree seedlings grow, pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping to constrain our climate crisis so that my daughters, and all of our children, can inherit a world where both people and nature can thrive.
The science around reforestation as a climate solution is rapidly advancing – from a seminal study in 2017 that documented the high mitigation potential of global reforestation, to increasingly refined estimates of just how much carbon those forests might capture. But a key question remained – where on earth are we going to put all those trees?
The climate cooling power of reforestation depends heavily on how much new forest area we can gain. The greater the footprint of new forest, the greater the amount of carbon dioxide we can pull from the atmosphere. But we can’t just put trees any old place where forests used to be. Some of those places are cities and productive croplands.
The Reforestation Hub: A Tool for Mapping New Forests
There are many ways to slice and dice the data, but we focused on creating a menu of ten options that represent the less expensive and/or potentially more viable options among:
1. large open patches within forests; 2. shrublands; 3. protected areas; 4. post-burn landscapes; 5. pasture lands; 6. croplands with challenging soils; 7. urban areas; 8. floodplains; 9. streamsides; 10. and migration corridors for species trying to keep pace with climate changes.
Vast Opportunities to Restore Forests and Capture Carbon
The Restoration Hub identifies over 200,000 square miles of total opportunity for reforestation, an area the size of California and Maine put together, which could capture up to 333 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. That’s equivalent to the carbon pollution from all of California’s, New York’s, and Texas’s cars, combined! We also estimate that about half of the mitigation (and a third of the area) is possible at $20 per metric ton of carbon dioxide or less.
However, our main goal was not to put out a big number. It was to help people make the reforestation choices that best suit their community, state, and county.
Want to find the places with the greatest carbon capture per acre? The places that are lowest cost? The places on public lands? The Reforestation Hub tool answers these questions, and many more. In particular, the Reforestation Hub lets you explore the results and visualize the outcome for every single county in the contiguous United States.
More Healthy Forests for a Brighter Future
Just like there is no single best location to re-establish forests, there is no single best way to get those trees growing. In some places, like my backyard, we may only need to step back and let the forest recover entirely on its own. Or we may offer a bit of help such as protecting the new trees from deer or invasive weeds.
But while letting forests regrow on their own can be a cheap and effective reforestation strategy, it may not always work. Sites that are highly degraded or far from seed sources, for example, may struggle to recover on their own. Planting trees can help to kickstart or speed recovery and can help establish the right species for current and future conditions. There is also something deeply satisfying about planting a tree, knowing that future generations will be able to clamber in the leaf boughs.
We have about a decade remaining to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but we are already feeling the negative consequences of rising temperatures associated with increasing flood risk and more severe wildfires.
Some days this feels pretty overwhelming, but this year has taught us that there are challenges we need to face, and can address, when we pull together to find solutions. Planting a tree is not the sole solution. We are absolutely going to need revolutions in our energy sector and massive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We need to keep forests as forests, improve our management of existing forests, and pursue the many promising options within our agricultural sector, grasslands, and wetlands. And new trees, with their air, water, and shade benefits, are also part of the solution.
Planting a tree, or simply letting seedlings grow in our own backyards, represents something we can do now to reignite our hope for a better future.
Susan Cook-Patton is the Senior Forest Restoration Scientist at The Nature Conservancy.
From extreme droughts, flooding, and fires to altered migration patterns and “hoot owl” fishing restrictions, America’s sportsmen and women have seen firsthand the impacts of a changing climate. If we are to protect and restore the habitats that support all the species we love to pursue, the hunting and fishing community must be part of climate change solutions.
There is no one silver bullet or single set of actions that will turn the tides entirely—climate change can only be addressed with a comprehensive strategy that involves all of us and all the tools we have. Thankfully, this includes habitat conservation measures already supported by sportsmen and women.
Here are six habitat improvement strategies that provide this win-win proposition: better hunting and fishing opportunities and fewer climate-change-driven impacts to fish and wildlife.
Improve Forest Management
The nation’s forests provide habitat for wildlife, shade to cool trout streams, and many convenient places to hang a tree stand, but they also store carbon—keeping carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and warming the globe. In fact, across the world, forests store as much as one-third of all emissions from burning fossil fuels or about 2.6 billion tons of carbon each year.
Forests also draw additional carbon out of the atmosphere. Young, healthy growing forests mostly sequester carbon while older forests store it, which is why it helps to have diverse, well-managed forests. Unfortunately, decades of fire suppression and past management practices have left many public forests in poor health and vulnerable to uncharacteristically large wildfires. Poorly managed forests can alter the carbon storage and sequestration balance.
Hunters and anglers are already advocating for reforestation, active management of young stands, and conservation of late-successional forests, because these measures promote diverse habitat conditions, reduce fire risk, and filter polluted runoff that would otherwise harm trout and salmon streams. But these are also natural climate solutions. One of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s s top priorities this year is pushing decision-makers to ensure that savings from the recent wildfire funding fix will go toward forest health and management. This is just one step toward securing more of the habitat and climate benefits of our national forests.
Reverse Grasslands Loss
Native grasslands are being lost at an alarming rate due to agricultural conversion, development, and other factors. Just like forests, degraded western rangelands and grasslands are less resilient to temperature and weather changes, and their carbon storage and sequestering benefits are altered as more habitat damage is done. Invasive species like cheatgrass now dominate many sagebrush landscapes and have dramatically altered this ecosystem’s productivity, stability, and fire regime.
But grasslands and shrub communities also absorb huge amounts of carbon.
Restoration and conservation of rangelands and grasslands will be an important component of a broad-scale, comprehensive habitat and climate resilience strategy. We need to stop converting these habitats and focus on restoring grasslands to increase their resilience and productivity.
Conserve and Restore Wetlands
Inland and coastal wetlands, marshes, estuaries, swamps, deltas, and floodplains are among nature’s most productive ecosystems—providing vital habitat for migratory waterfowl and both fresh and saltwater species of gamefish—that also store carbon.
Wetlands across the country already provide critical habitat, reduce erosion, improve water quality, and filter flood waters to protect our communities. But they are also being lost—drained, developed, converted to crops, or damaged beyond repair.
Globally, wetlands may presently sequester as much as 700 billion tons of carbon each year. Once drained or partially dried, these areas may become a net source of methane and carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. They are also particularly vulnerable to climate change. Rising temperatures and increased drought can convert permanent wetlands to semi-permanent or seasonal ones.
We need to protect our remaining wetlands and reverse the loss while restoring those that have been altered to help meet the nation’s goals for flood control, clean water, habitat, and carbon reduction.
Boost Farm Bill Conservation Programs
Roughly 40 percent of the United States is in agricultural production. This sector represents about 9 percent of all carbon emissions, but farmers and ranchers also contribute significantly to carbon storage and sequestration when they manage and preserve grasslands, wetlands, and forests.
Our community is already preparing to work with Congress on a 2023 Farm Bill with strong conservation funding, and this would give landowners more of a chance to contribute to climate change solutions, as well. Increasing Conservation Reserve Program acreage to 50 million acres, for example, would enhance the habitat benefits for whitetail and mule deer, prairie chickens, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and countless other species—not to mention provide better hunting and fishing experiences for the sportsmen and women who rely on CRP lands for access.
Boosting the CRP would also give landowners the option to conserve grasslands and wetlands that combat climate change. Expanding this and other conservation programs would be a great starting point for strengthening the role that private landowners play in the climate fight.
Continue the Gulf Coast Comeback
Rising seas have already destroyed thousands of miles of coastline and hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal salt marshes and seagrass beds that are vital to many sportfish and waterfowl. Louisiana’s more seasoned duck hunters can likely point to actual ground they once hunted that has now been lost.
The good news is that building coastal infrastructure is a viable solution to fight these catastrophic losses.
Reparation funds from the BP oil spill have already helped to rebuild habitat health beyond what was damaged in the environmental disaster and recover some of what has been lost to subsidence, erosion, and sea-level rise.
The continued conservation and restoration of these habitats can help save lives and protect coastal communities, while providing healthier fisheries, cleaner water, and enhancing resilience to climate change. We need to ensure federal programs and funding are available to identify areas for protection, restoration, or management and to develop effective strategies to sustain the natural benefits of coastal habitats.
Shore Up Streambanks
One of the most obvious impacts of climate change for America’s anglers is rising water temperatures that threaten coldwater trout species. This is compounded in places where streams have been degraded by major floods, wildfires, dam construction and land-use changes. Many conservation volunteers cut their teeth on projects aimed at restoring healthy stream flows, reducing streambank erosion, and ultimately lowering water temperatures, but they may not realize riparian areas have an underappreciated ability to store carbon, both in vegetation and the soil itself.
At the federal level, we will need to invest in numerous solutions to build resilient river systems and ensure our lakes, rivers, and streams are able to function as productive carbon sinks while also supporting the fish and wildlife we love to pursue. Programs and policies emphasizing water conservation, water efficiency, nutrient reductions, and riparian zone protection and restoration will be critical.
Let Habitat Work
Any national climate strategy must include land- and water-based solutions that harness the power of our natural systems. But, as you can see, these habitat improvements are already on our wish list as a conservation community.
It’s important to note that these actions will not only benefit fish and wildlife, enhance soil quality, and create cleaner water—they will also create jobs and strengthen rural economies. But there is no time to waste, whether we’re talking about implementing natural climate solutions, reversing habitat loss and wildlife species declines, or putting Americans back to work through conservation. We have to stop debating about resolving climate change and get to work on implementing these straightforward natural solutions. Let’s allow habitat to contribute all it can to the climate fight.
Ed Arnett is the Chief Scientist at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.