Forests and climate change solutions
Without question, climate change is the greatest global threat of our time, taking a toll on countries around the world with devastating wildfires, dangerous weather patterns and record-breaking heatwaves. We see now that our health, economies and global stability are threatened by this crisis.
While there are various solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 50 percent by 2030, most are dependent on new technologies that will take years to bring online. Given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recently released report, it is clear that the effects of climate change are far more dire than previous reports suggested and that the window to act is even shorter.
Among the best and most effective strategies available now to combat climate change are those that protect our natural lands, especially our existing forests. Conservation allows these essential ecosystems to continue to provide multiple life-sustaining benefits — like clean air to breathe and water to drink, critical habitat for wildlife to roam and thrive, opportunities to explore the outdoors and carbon absorption.
But not all nature-based solutions are equal. As with anything, location matters.
We’ve seen recently what happens when the political and legal systems are not in place to provide assurances that places set aside for conservation will remain undeveloped in the future. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for encouraging deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and working to ensure that it can be used for agriculture purposes. The result? The Amazon, which was once a robust carbon sink, is now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs causing our global problem to worsen.
In the United States, legal and political systems are already in place for conservation to provide certainty that protected land will be protected in perpetuity.
The most scalable of these nature-based solutions is to focus on conserving existing forests, which capture harmful GHGs from the atmosphere at a much greater scale than new technologies under development. In 2019, U.S. forests sequestered 791 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, approximately 12 percent of the nation’s GHGs that year.
Not only are natural solutions like these effective, but we have widespread public support to expand on them. A 2020 Pew Research Study shows that 74 percent of adults want the country to do more to protect the environment. This public support — along with private investment — will continue to increase because we can demonstrate that conservation-focused solutions to climate change and economic development can work hand-in-hand. Forests and their sustainable management support more than 2 million U.S. jobs that are important to the future of rural communities and cannot be exported overseas.
The IPCC report emphasizes that we are running out of time. If we truly want to meet our goals and ensure the best possible future, we must use every tool available. Alternative energy and engineered carbon capture technology are important to our long-term climate objectives but forests support life on earth now in a unique and essential way.
Conservation reminds us of our shared connection to nature, bolsters our local economies with tourism, recreation and jobs and helps to sequester carbon. Now is the time to work together with investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and governments to invest in forest conservation on the scale we need.
Larry Selzer is the chief executive officer at The Conservation Fund, which has protected over 8.5 million acres of land across the United States. The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund is the first green bonds of their kind dedicated to forest conservation in the U.S., which aims to protect 5 million acres of forests.