New Guide Helps Decision-Makers Adopt Natural Climate Solutions

On its first day in office, the Biden-Harris Administration established a national goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, with a 2030 milestone of reducing emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels. Achieving these goals will require widespread efforts, first and foremost harnessing the power of nature itself.

Climate measures that harness the power of nature are known as “natural climate solutions.” They include land management, conservation, and restoration practices—particularly of forests, farms, ranches, grasslands and coastal wetlands—that provide climate change mitigation benefits, typically with additional benefits for the environment, the economy, and society.

Natural climate solutions receive miniscule investment considering their potential for climate change mitigation. According to The Nature Conservancy, natural climate solutions can provide up to one-third of the emission reductions needed by 2030 that would allow global temperature increases to remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius as laid out in the Paris Agreement. In February 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center published a report which urges Congress to massively increase Department of Agriculture funding (“up to a doubling of current budgets”) for key programs to bolster natural climate solutions.

U.S. Nature4Climate (USN4C), a non-profit and non-partisan coalition of conservation, environmental, and sustainable business organizations, recently unveiled their “Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions” to address the disconnect between the limited funding going towards natural climate solutions and their vast potential impact. The Guide is designed to ensure a clear path forward for the effective planning and implementation of natural climate solutions nationwide.

According to Nathan Henry, program manager at USN4C, “We identified the need for the Decision-Makers Guide last year out of a recognition that there are many individuals in government, business, and academia who are strongly committed to solving the climate crisis, but who are either unfamiliar with Natural Climate Solutions, or don’t have time to navigate the vast amount of information highlighting their benefits and the actions necessary to support their implementation.”

The Guide was launched on February 28 of this year—the same day that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report on the vulnerability of human societies and natural ecosystems to climate change and on possible adaptation measures. USN4C’s Decision-Makers Guide is a fitting companion to the IPCC report, which also highlights the powerful impact that healthy natural habitats can have in addressing the climate crisis, but focuses on the benefits for adaptation rather than mitigation.

Henry stated that “while we tend to lead with the climate mitigation potential of these strategies, part of the appeal of Natural Climate Solutions is the crucial role they can play in solving a wide array of additional problems.” Natural climate solutions often produce additional outcomes that are distinctly positive, especially for climate adaptation and resilience. “For example, coastal restoration activities not only sequester carbon, but also protect biodiversity and improve the resilience of coastal communities to flooding,” explained Henry. “Regenerative agriculture practices store carbon, but also increase land productivity and help make soils more resilient to drought and floods. Efforts to increase urban tree cover not only sequester carbon, but also help provide communities with relief from extreme heat.”

USN4C is dedicated to making sure that natural systems and working lands are incorporated as much as possible into climate policy and action plans and has been encouraged by some of the policies and programs that have been established since the coalition was launched in 2020. “Over the past few years, federal and state governments have really begun to step up efforts to support implementation of Natural Climate Solutions, through passage of the infrastructure bill and programs like the Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities,” said Henry. Even with this recent progress, however, much more is urgently needed. That is where the Guide comes in.

Individuals from institutions of all types, including governmental, corporate, agricultural, academic, or non-profit, can use the guide to identify their role in advancing more widespread adoption of natural climate solutions. For those in need of background information about the science of natural climate solutions and the ample benefits they deliver, the guide has a section titled “Science for Decision-Makers” that covers strategies for forests, agriculture, and blue carbon (or aquatic ecosystems). On this page, USN4C has compiled an extensive selection of resources from respected organizations—peer-reviewed studies are paired with various articles, infographics, and videos that make the research more approachable for non-experts. There is also a glossary to provide key terminology and distinguish between terms that might be incorrectly regarded as synonymous, such as “climate-smart agriculture” versus “regenerative agriculture.”

Once users are equipped with the baseline knowledge they need, they can move on to the “Natural Climate Solutions Toolbox” for a more tailored analysis of the optimal strategies for various landscapes and regions. This section contains a curated list of free and publicly available tools—many of them generated by members of USN4C—including interactive features and strategic data sets designed to help decision-makers pinpoint the natural climate solutions best for them and their communities.

For example, the “U.S. Natural Climate Solutions Mapper” allows the user to quantify the maximum carbon mitigation potential of 11 different “pathways” (such as reforestation or grassland restoration) in their state based on various price points. Another feature of the mapper shows how states rank by climate change mitigation potential and contribution relative to the U.S. national level. The top five states with the highest overall mitigation potential are Texas, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri. This tool is an ideal starting point for those seeking guidance on the most impactful and cost-effective natural climate solutions for their state.

More research is needed to fully understand the climate mitigation potential of certain types of natural climate solutions like fire management and no-till agriculture. “We recognize that the science behind some Natural Climate Solutions strategies is still evolving, so we provided a forum for people to hear diverse perspectives,” said Henry. This forum can be found in the “Discussion and Debate” section of the Decision-Makers Guide.

The Guide is designed to continue growing at the same pace as the emerging science. Henry explained, “This resource is not meant to be read like a book that is only read once. We plan to manage the guide as a living resource that will evolve over time—as new tools, new science, and innovation on Natural Climate Solutions progress.”

EESI is part of the USN4C Coalition. This article was originally published on EESI’s website on July 21, 2022.

Peatlands, Which Can Help Fight Against Climate Change, Face Many Threats: Improved science could spur conservation, with myriad benefits to nature and people

Known by many names—from fen, bog, and marsh to mire and swamp—peatlands are a type of wetland that plays important roles in the environment, including absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and supporting an abundant array of wildlife. They also provide numerous benefits to people, including drinking water and food as well as recreational and educational activities. But many of these benefits may not be around for long, because peatlands around the world face myriad threats to their existence.

That’s why The Pew Charitable Trusts is working to improve peatland conservation in many regions of the world, in part by seeking to fill gaps in research and advocate for strong policies to safeguard these ecosystems. Here, we delve into what exactly peatlands are, how they support wildlife and people, and what lies ahead for peatland conservation science.

An introduction to peatlands

Although there is no universally accepted definition of peatlands, scientists most often describe them as a class of wetland with a naturally accumulated layer of dead plant material, or peat, at the surface. Peat is formed when organic matter accumulates faster than it decomposes because of a lack of oxygen in waterlogged matter. In areas where peat accumulation has continued over long periods of time, the land may have layers of peat that are meters thick. Although all peatlands are wetlands, not all wetlands are peatlands.

Graphic courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts

There are two major types of peatlands: bogs and fens. Bogs are fed by precipitation, whereas fens receive water and nutrients from other sources, such as groundwater. Because peat can accumulate only in perennially waterlogged places, the distribution and characteristics of peatlands largely depends on local conditions, such as weather and freshwater inputs. Peatlands are found in and near fresh and brackish waters, and in coastal and inland areas around the world. As a result of their broad geographic coverage and highly diverse characteristics, peatlands are often unrecognized and overlooked by governments and policymakers.

Peatlands occupy only about 3% of the global land area but contain about 25% of the global soil carbon stock—twice the amount found in the world’s forests. These wetlands store older carbon in their peat layer for the long term, and in vegetation for the shorter term. Peatlands are also home to rich biodiversity, including a wide range of threatened and endemic species, and provide important places for recreational, spiritual, inspirational, educational, and other cultural activities for communities. In addition, peatlands support livelihoods with activities such as animal grazing. They also help to control flooding and filter sediments, pollutants, and other nutrients from sources of drinking water.

Threats and impacts

Scientists estimate that 15% of global peatlands have been drained for land development and agriculture, resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions through release of the carbon that those wetlands were storing over long periods of time. The world’s carbon-rich soils, mostly located in boreal areas, are disproportionally drained in tropical regions—an action that accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the draining of temperate and boreal peatlands. Notably, half of the world’s known peatland emissions come from Southeast Asia, where high rates of deforestation and drainage and high temperatures speed the decomposition. Recent research estimates that current greenhouse gas emissions from drained or burned peatlands globally account for 5% of all emissions caused by human activity.

Graphic courtesy of Pew Charitable Trusts

Importance of global peatland conservation

To date, most peatland conservation has used one or more of the following approaches: conserving intact peatlands, rewetting drained peatlands, applying climate-responsible peatland management, or implementing adaptive management where rewetting is not possible.

Scientific studies have estimated that peatland restoration would prevent the release of 394 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, an amount slightly larger than Australia’s annual emissions. But altering drainage patterns and local hydrogeography can be costly, so key industries or communities benefiting from extractive uses of peatlands may push back on restoration efforts. In addition to restoration, preventing peatlands from being disturbed could also yield substantial climate benefits and may be more economically feasible than restoration in some regions or under specific circumstances. This also highlights the need for equitable access to creative financing solutions so that communities can fund these conservation and restoration activities.

How science can help to improve peatland conservation

Despite the important role that peatlands play in sequestering carbon, the scientific community is not currently able to factor them into future climate models and projections, largely because of gaps in data and research. To address these data gaps, additional research is needed to better understand:

  1. The status and extent of global peatlands, particularly in data-poor regions.
  2. Peatland contribution to greenhouse gas fluxes.
  3. The impacts of climate change and other human-made stressors on peatlands.
  4. The costs and benefits of peatland conservation and restoration to deliver ecosystem services, such as those mentioned above, to people.

The development of standardized approaches to map and quantify peatlands should enable natural resource managers to adapt conservation approaches to different peatland types and locations. Similarly, governments and other key stakeholders can use improved baseline information to track peatland restoration, which may even play a role in verification standards as carbon markets for financing peatland conservation efforts are developed.

Peter Edwards is an officer and Kathrynlynn Theuerkauf is a principal associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ conservation science project.

This article was originally published by the Pew Charitable Trust.

Learn more about Peatlands by visiting U.S. Nature4Climate’s Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions Science.

Let’s Also Not Pretend We Can Reach Our Climate Goals Without Trees

We humans just can’t help ourselves. Apparently – for evolutionary reasons – we are wired to create a ‘them versus us’ framework for interpreting the world. For our first ancestors, this was an advantage, helping us to sort out friend from foe at rapid speed. Sadly, this also means that today – when we are in dire need of more cross-faction collaboration to solve the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss – we are pointlessly pitting solution against solution in the public debate. An example of this is the recent New York Times opinion piece by an IPCC author, which joins a divisive campaign against those advocating for the need to both protect forests and grow new ones.

It is extremely disappointing to continue to see these solutions framed as an “either/or” proposition. We are in a climate crisis and need every tool in the toolbox; there is no luxury of choosing between technology and nature. This argument is particularly odd given the IPCC’s most recent report which lists restoration of ecosystems as one of the top five most cost-effective climate actions we can take by 2030. This definitive scientific report states with high confidence that rapid deployment of land-based measures for reducing emissions is ‘essential in all pathways’ for keeping global warming to 1.5°C. Put simply, we cannot get to 1.5 without nature – including both the protection of our remaining forests and restoring damaged ecosystems. Not only can we not reach our agreed global goal without nature, but we also need to mobilize fast, as nature’s efficacy and abilities to mitigate the most damage are most potent in the next eight years.

Sadly, we are nowhere near close to that goal today because of our continued destruction of nature – and because corporate and public investment is falling well short of what is needed to end nature loss. We need to stimulate investment in nature now to avoid the risky proposition of further dependence on carbon removal technologies that are currently nascent, expensive and still largely theoretical at scale.

Neglecting investments in nature today is one of the worst things we could do. We need more, not less, investment in nature – for so many obvious reasons. While we will need carbon removal technologies as a response to climate change, they will do absolutely nothing towards stopping and reversing biodiversity loss. This is now widely accepted as a human-made crisis on the same existential scale as climate change. Nature-based solutions – when done right – deliver immeasurable benefits for climate, nature and people, and are closely aligned with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

If we are to stand any chance at all of succeeding, we have to do everything in our power as soon as possible. And there are enough of us on the planet – and enough money – to do many things at once. As the author states up front, ‘trees are our original carbon removal technology: through photosynthesis, they pull carbon dioxide out of the air and store it.’ This is why so many scientists are focused on researching the best strategies to avoid losing that carbon, which has already been stored over millennia. In fact, our dependence on yet-to-be-scaled carbon removal technologies will increase exponentially as we lose that ‘irrecoverable carbon,’ which will take centuries to restore. That is why leading scientists came together to launch the ‘natural climate solutions’ hierarchy that urges climate efforts to focus on the protection of nature first, followed by land management strategies and then restoration.

Nobody in the nature-based solutions community is arguing that we don’t need drastic emissions reductions from fossil fuels. This has to be the priority. Nor is this community arguing against investment in new technology. But arguments for “either/or” divisions create unnecessary confusion and uncertainty that inhibits investment, particularly from companies that are trying to navigate this space. The fact is that we need corporate investments to increase exponentially in nature to meet our climate goals, which is why the We Mean Business Coalition is calling on companies to address at least 10% of their annual emissions through nature investments in addition to halving their own emissions by 2030.

Scrutiny of carbon markets is warranted and welcomed to ensure they fulfil their potential to direct much-needed private finance to nature-based climate solutions in support of the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Emerging initiatives, such as the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative are bringing much-needed guidance to companies to ensure their carbon credit investments are done right and with credibility. By following VCMI’s guidance companies should feel confident in their ability to make impactful, and critically needed investments in nature.

We also know we need carbon removals to meet our goals – both nature-based and technology-based.  It is unhelpful to pit these vital solutions against each other. The good news is companies should – and are – doing both: taking holistic approaches which integrate both nature-based and technology solutions.  Others should follow their lead.

There is no doubt in this age of jeopardy that we need to hedge our bets on all available solutions. Cutting nature out of the equation is equivalent to entering the ring with one arm tied behind your back. Let’s stop chasing sensational headlines, and take pains to emphasize the “both/and” imperative of the climate response.

This opinion piece originally appeared on the Nature4Climate website.

The State of the Puget Sound Tree Canopy

Trees help clean the water flowing into streams, rivers and Puget Sound, help purify the air people breathe, lower the temperature of surrounding neighborhoods—and so much more. As Puget Sound cities and towns experience rapid growth, identifying opportunities to invest in high-impact tree planting and preservation projects is essential to ensuring people will continue to receive the multiple benefits of trees.

A coalition of local, regional and national partners came together to address this goal and develop a model for the Central Puget Sound region to target projects that maximize the benefits of the urban tree canopy. The three-year collaboration included The Nature Conservancy, Davey Expert Tree Company, American Forests and City Forest Credits and was funded by a grant from the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, administered through the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Trees grace the urban environment. Photo by Kevin Lee.

By approaching this from a regional lens, the Central Puget Sound partners were able to leverage resources to ensure that jurisdictions – regardless of their individual capacity – were able to access high-quality data and tools to understand their existing tree canopy and opportunities to invest in future tree canopy through a lens of ecosystem benefits, social equity and climate adaptation. In addition, a regional analysis provided an overall understanding of regional tree canopy distribution. After all, trees and forests do not care about city lines.

The Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Toolkit details the results of this effort and highlights a model that can be adapted and applied by other regions in Washington State and across the United States. 

The Conservancy, Davey Tree, American Forests and City Forest Credits conducted an urban tree canopy assessment and incorporated into multiple tools, including: a planting prioritization based on ecosystem benefits, i-Tree Landscape and Tree Equity Score. To supplement these tools, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Sciences produced a climate-adaptive tree species guide for the Puget Sound. To encourage and support community action, the City Forest Credits demonstrated how carbon financing can support urban forestry goals.

The products of this partnership can be used by urban forestry practitioners to target investments in urban tree planting and maintenance based on a variety of priorities, including looking at available planting space, equitable distribution of trees, stormwater benefits, and more. These tools can be used to communicate with decision makers using ecosystem service benefit and more.

Since these tools cross jurisdictional boundaries, the final products offer the opportunity for those in different jurisdictions to connect, learn from each other and even potentially collaborate on future analysis and projects.

Those looking to develop their own regional effort to understand urban canopy can look to this toolkit for Seven Steps to Building an Urban Tree Canopy Model. Core to this is connecting with partners with different types of expertise and connections.

Graphic courtesy of The Nature Conservancy – Washington

Dig into the Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Toolkit to learn more, explore tools and check out all the different resources to support healthy urban trees! 

Funds for this project were provided by the USDA Forest Service and Community Forestry Program, administered through the State of Washington Department of Natural Resources Urban and Community Forestry Program. The Nature Conservancy partnered with Davey Expert Tree Company, American Forests and City Forest Credits throughout the project.

This article originally appeared in The Nature Conservancy Washington’s Field Notes blog. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this work please connect with Hannah Kett, Urban Program Director at The Nature Conservancy –

Learn more about the economic, health, and climate benefits of urban trees by visiting U.S. Nature4Climate’s Decision-Makers Guide to Natural Climate Solutions.