Laura Stoecker © The Nature Conservancy

What is the Science?

To stop climate change, it is crucial that we drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions and remove greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Natural Climate Solutions including conservation, improved land management, and restoration practices offer a way to make forests, wetlands, grasslands, farms and ranches part of the solution to climate change.

Mark Godfrey © The Nature Conservancy

Investment in Natural Climate Solutions cannot solve climate change alone, but it will not be possible to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 unless we pursue these pathways alongside efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the energy generation, transportation and industrial sectors. There is no way to limit global warming to 1.5ºC without investing in Natural Climate Solutions.

Globally, these Natural Climate Solutions could deliver up to a third of the carbon reduction necessary by 2030 to keep global warming in check. In the United States, the land sector is already removing the equivalent of 11 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, and much more is possible. Conserving, restoring, and rethinking the way we manage our natural and working lands will have multiple payoffs not only for climate, but also for people and our economy, for air and water quality, and for fish and wildlife.

Natural Pathways to Climate Mitigation

Natural Climate Solutions are an essential component of a comprehensive strategy to address climate change, in conjunction with efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions. A recent study on “Natural Climate Solutions for the United States” (Fargione et al. 2018) analyzed 21 pathways for mitigating climate change through actions which avoid emissions and enhance sequestration across U.S. farms, ranches, forests, wetlands and grasslands.

For each pathway, they tackled two questions:

  • What is the maximum climate mitigation potential of Natural Climate Solutions in the U.S.?
  • What proportion of the maximum potential could be achieved at $10 (current carbon market prices), $50 (social cost of carbon) and $100 (estimated price needed to meet climate targets).

By applying specific practices that protect lands from conversion, improve management, and restore native ecosystems to all lands where each practice would be appropriate – the maximum climate mitigation potential – the researchers found that we could increase the land sectors contribution by an additional 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. Nearly a quarter of the new potential can be achieved for less than $10 dollars per ton. We updated this estimate based on additional research by The Nature Conservancy, American Farmland Trust, and the World Resource Institute.

While there may be physical limitations that would prevent the application of Natural Climate Solutions practices across all of the acres listed, and practice adoption rates will vary, the maximum potential provides an estimate of the upper end of the potential contribution natural and working lands could make to the nation’s climate mitigation strategy. Identifying the boundaries of these limitations is a necessary next step that can help better refine the true maximum potential.

1 million tons of CO2 equals the same amount of greenhouse gases emitted by…

Over 216 thousand passenger vehicles in a year

Consuming more than 112.5 million gallons of gasoline

The electricity needed to power nearly 170 thousand homes for a year


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