Congress Harnesses the Power of Nature as a Key Climate Solution

In August, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress passed the most comprehensive climate law in our nation’s history, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). As the West experiences yet another record wildfire season and the Southeast recovers from Hurricane Ian, the IRA’s $369 billion investment to strengthen our country’s resilience to climate change comes not a moment too soon. While additional local, state, and federal actions are still needed to tackle climate change, the IRA puts the US on track to reduce our emissions by a significant 40%.

While much of the IRA’s attention has been focused on its massive incentives for clean energy and other innovative technologies, we have also been celebrating a lesser known but equally important part of the law – it’s investments in natural climate solutions.

Natural climate solutions are any actions that, at their core, help nature do what it’s always done so well – sequester and store greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts include anything from conserving intact landscapes that protect access to clean air and water, restoring forests to reduce wildfire risks, or managing lands to increase carbon sequestration and community resilience to climate-fueled natural disasters.

Currently, America’s public lands are a significant contributor to the climate crisis, with 25% of all U.S. emissions generated from extraction on federal public lands. Imagine if we could flip the script and our public lands were not contributing to the climate crisis but working to solve it through sequestering and storing carbon.   

Scientists have shown that managing natural landscapes to capture and store carbon can provide roughly 1/3 of the climate mitigation needed to meet international climate goals. In addition to sequestering carbon, investments in natural climate solutions also help people and wildlife adapt and become more resilient to climate consequences. 

Here’s a closer look at why the IRA’s investments in natural climate solutions are so critical in the fight against climate change.

Restoring and Managing Public Lands for Climate

America’s public lands can play a critical role in addressing climate change by sequestering planet-warming emissions – if they are properly managed. By investing $2.5 billion in the protection, restoration, and management of public lands for climate resilience, the IRA helps elevate these natural landscapes as a cornerstone of the nation’s climate strategy.

Scientists across the world have echoed the importance of protected landscapes as a climate solution, calling for 30% of all lands and waters to be protected by 2030 in order to maintain a livable planet. This effort, also known as 30×30, has been formally supported by more than 100 countries and is the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative.  

The Role of Old-Growth & Protected Forests

Trees are the world’s oldest and most effective natural climate solutions. Trees and forests in the U.S. sequester and store 17% of our nation’s annual carbonemissions and it is no secret that the largest, oldest trees are the best at trapping harmful pollutants. In fact, the largest 1% of trees account for half the carbon stored across all trees. If forests are mismanaged, however, they can also release greenhouse gas emissions when trees are cut, wildfires burn, and lands are degraded by development.

Building on President Biden’s efforts to strengthen the climate benefits of forests, the IRA includes historic investments to restore national forests and protect old-growth trees. Recognizing that more than half of U.S. forests are not federally owned, the IRA also provides more than $1 billion in incentives to protect private forests and implement climate-smart forestry practices. By encouraging states and private landowners to permanently protect their forests and manage them for climate resiliency and carbon storage, the IRA helps bolster the ability of forests to combat climate change.

Urban Forestry

In addition to being one of the most powerful nature-based tools we have to combat climate change, trees are also the best natural solution for addressing extreme heat. As the heatwaves plaguing the world continue to grow in intensity and frequency, increased tree cover can help save lives by cooling the areas below them by 20-45°F. Urban trees also help save energy, capture storm runoff, and reduce flooding and erosion – further contributing to the fight against climate change.

Increasing tree cover is not just an environmental issue, it’s also one of equity. Studies have shown that low-income neighborhoods generally have fewer trees compared to wealthier areas, creating urban heat islands in communities with fewer resources to adapt. By investing $1.5 billion for urban tree planting in local parks and other public spaces, the IRA helps advance a key climate solution as well as environmental justice.

Working at the intersection of protecting America’s public lands and solving the climate crisis, the Campion Advocacy Fund has long recognized the deep connection between our shared public lands and climate change. Considering that nature is the best tool we have to mitigate planet-warming pollution and the role protected areas play in protecting local communities, we believe that the IRA’s investments in natural climate solutions are key to bringing our climate goals closer to reach. We must continue to view and invest in nature as a critical piece of the climate solution, and the Campion Advocacy Fund will continue to fight to ensure that our shared public lands are managed for the benefit of people and the planet.