Why Alaska is Critical for Natural Climate Solutions

When discussing solutions to climate change, folks often think about things like ending fossil fuel production, increasing renewable energy, or switching to electric vehicles. While these are important components to addressing the climate crisis, there is a growing consensus that nature can also play a cost-effective and immediate role in fighting climate change. 

Natural climate solutions, also called nature-based solutions, are proven actions we can take to protect, restore, and better manage lands in a way that reduces planet-warming emissions and stores more carbon to help combat climate change. They can range from conserving wetlands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to restoring forests to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere; to protecting intact landscapes to help protect wildlife and access to clean air and water.

At Campion Advocacy Fund, we see natural climate solutions as a critical piece of the climate puzzle and we are dedicated to both advocating for and funding these solutions. Conserving intact, natural habitats is a key aspect of natural climate solutions, and we view the State of Alaska as critical to how the United States tackles the climate crisis. 

At nearly one-fifth the size of the U.S., Alaska is home to a third of the nation’s federal lands, nearly 40% of the entire U.S. coastline, more than 60% of America’s wetlands, and more than half of the country’s carbon stores. To put it in other words, everything in Alaska is massive—and so is its potential to serve as a natural solution to climate change. In addition to Alaska’s outsized ability to absorb and store carbon in its forests, wetlands, and permafrost, conserving and restoring Alaska’s intact ecosystems also helps protect biodiversity. Did you know that Alaska hosts about half of the world’s sockeye salmon, the largest land migration in the world, and 50% of all the shorebirds that are found in North America? 

Although Campion Advocacy Fund works on landscapes across the country, we are rooted in the belief that the United States cannot solve the climate crisis without our public lands in Alaska. Given Alaska’s tremendous climate potential, protecting and restoring key landscapes in the state—particularly the Tongass National Forest and Alaska’s Arctic—presents a monumental opportunity to address climate change.

The Tongass National Forest, located in southeast Alaska, is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world and plays a critical role in carbon sequestration. The Tongass stores more than 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to 1.5x the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Despite the Tongass’ natural ability to aid us in tackling climate change, the forest is under threat from logging, mining, and other industrial activities that put its carbon storage capacity at risk. 

Recognizing the Tongass’ critical role as a natural climate solution, the Biden administration has implemented the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, which focuses on ending commercial sales of old-growth timber from the Tongass while investing in financial and technical resources to help local communities develop sustainable economies. These types of initiatives protect the landscape so it can naturally reduce planet warming emissions and, concurrently, bolsters local communities as they transition away from resource dependence. 

Looking further North, Alaska’s Arctic region also serves as a significant natural climate solution as it stores vast amounts of carbon in permafrost and other frozen soils. However, the Arctic is experiencing climatic changes at a rate 4x greater than the rest of the world — with the permafrost thawing and releasing large amounts of stored carbons back into the atmosphere. This feedback loop could lead to even more warming and permafrost thaw, creating a vicious cycle. Similar to the Tongass National Forest, land management practices in Alaska’s Arctic will continue to play a major role in determining whether these lands serve as a solution to climate change or as a contributor to our climate problems.  

Given its sheer size and large tracts of intact habitat, fostering the development of natural climate solutions in Alaska will provide outsized benefits for our climate and our communities. Campion Advocacy Fund has long recognized the connection between our public lands and climate change, and we will continue to advocate for the conservation of these important natural habitats for generations to come to ensure a sustainable future for all.