Solar Tribune

Climate Change Policy: Utilizing Natural Resources

Climate change, by definition, is a situation that is showing us the impact we have on the natural resources around us from manmade activity. While preserving those natural resources is a key goal of any climate action, the proper use and care for those same natural resources can be a tool towards preventing the worst impacts of climate change as well. From green spaces able to act as carbon sinks to regenerative agriculture practices that can create new opportunities for more climate-friendly uses of the land, policies that focus today on how we are utilizing natural resources are a key component of the climate policy puzzle.

A concrete example of what this type of policy can mean is the following:

 

Land Use Policies

land use policy climate change

What is it: While most of the man-made emissions come from the production of energy, the industrial manufacture of goods, and from transportation, the way the Earth’s land and waters are used has a significant impact on total global emissions. In particular, how the use of the planet’s surface is changing is a huge driver of the state of global emissions. Massive deforestation in tropical areas removes a natural source of carbon sequestration, drilling for fossil fuels on public lands brings new hydrocarbons into the world’s inventories to be burned, and improper management of land and seas can lead to ecosystem degradation and undue release of greenhouse gases and loss of carbon sequestering greenery. As such, land-use policies can be deliberately used to protect and bolster these natural defenses of the planet against the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And because nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is made up of oceans, which can impact global temperatures significantly as heat sinks or can provide algal cover that sequesters carbon, proper land-use approaches will also consider ecosystems and environments across the world’s seas.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to this article in Science Findings, Oregon has protected 1.2 million acres of forest and agricultural land since 1973 and thus maximized carbon storage. On a larger scale, Brazil has enacted policies to try and protect its massive tropical foreststo reduce the emissions that had risen from deforestation.

In Favor of Land Use Policies:

“Public lands not only enhance carbon sequestration, but their protection often removes them as a fossil fuel development opportunity. As an example, on the Arctic Refuge, not only do we oppose the drilling of this land because of the human rights issues and conservation issues, but also because the indirect emissions that would come from such drilling would be equivalent to about a million new cars on the road. Protecting public lands is protecting the climate.”- Lindsay Bouroine, Director of Policy & Advocacy at Protect Our Winters

“It’s critical to enhance the carbon storage potential of land uses, like forests, farms, and wetlands. Sometimes that’s called enhancing ecosystems, and it encompasses making sure we’re managing land in a way that really helps support reducing emissions.” – Carla Frisch, Principal at Rocky Mountain Institute

“Forests are the best technology available for storing and sequestering carbon from out of the atmosphere. So the more we protect forests and the more we look at natural climate solutions, the better off we are. It’s a much cheaper investment than coming up with some crazy technology that’s going to suck carbon from the atmosphere; we already have that technology – trees. It’s much more than feel-good tree planting initiatives. Protecting our forests and allowing them to grow and regenerate has to be the focus, which has been a gap missing from the Green New Deal and other legislative initiatives.”—Scot Quaranda, Communications Director, Dogwood Alliance

“We saw that there was no blue in the Green New Deal, it left off 71% of the planet in the oceans. So, we put together a blue climate action plan. Our public seas can be a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also helping coastal communities to equitably adapt. If ecosystem restoration and the recognition that biodiversity equals security becomes core function to our political economy as we build back better from our 2020 dystopia, we may yet be able to survive and perhaps even thrive. First, we’ll have to find practical and scalable ways to restore enough forest cover, healthy agricultural soils, and marine algal productivity to start removing or “drawing down” some of the excess industrial carbon we’ve been spewing into our atmosphere for the past 150 years. Having broken nature, it’s now ours to fix.” – David Helvarg, Executive Director at Blue Frontier

“A part of the solution is the carbon sinks. We need to care more for the natural sinks, and we believe in these nature-based solutions, and caring for the creation. We need to ensure the solutions we apply fit into the nature, such as forestry and aquaculture.” – Mattias Soderberg, Co-Chair of the Climate Change Group at ACT Alliance / Chief Advisor at DanChurchAid 

Against Land Use Policies:

“Developing our resources on the coastal plain is an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance.” – Joe Balash, Assistant Secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior

Read more:

Introduction to Land Use: United Nations Climate Change

Climate-Friendly Land Use: Union of Concerned Scientists

Planning and Land Use: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

 

Support for Regenerative Agriculture

 

What is it: While agriculture is a critical industry that made modern society possible, over the years humans have developed certain agricultural practices that are harmful to the planet and the surrounding environment. Because agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and takes over a massive portion of available land across the world, farming in the most sustainable way is one approach to climate policy that’s taken recent focus. In particular, regenerative agriculture practices can help reverse climate change by enriching damaged soil and other organic matter, increasing biodiversity on the land, and resulting in a natural carbon sink that can draw carbon out of the air. With how intertwined public policy has gotten in supporting and propping up different aspects of the agricultural sector, many are calling for public policy to incentivize or even require farmers to adopt such beneficial practices.

Is it enacted anywhere: California was a pioneer in enacting public policy to support regenerative agricultural practices, with California’s Healthy Soils Initiative (HSI) becoming “a key part of California’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing carbon sequestration in and on natural and working lands. The goal is to comprehensively look at policies that can support healthy soils through (1) improving governmental agencies, (2) incentivizing ranch and farm practice, and (3) research and education,” which was the destination for half of the first year of California’s cap-and-trade budget.

In Favor of Regenerative Agriculture Policies:

“We do a lot of work on regenerative agriculture. Encouraging large food providers to shift supply chains to practices that nurture soil health can sequester enormous amounts of carbon.” – Todd Larsen, Executive Co-Director for Consumer & Corporate Engagement at Green America

“Many great civilizations of the past have collapsed because they were unable to meet the demand for food, and today we have added the pressure of climate change – rising temperatures, weather volatility, reduced water access, and flooding. Farmers in the coming decades could be entering uncharted territory, forced to grow food in an unstable 1.5˚C+ world. This is why One Earth’s 3rde pillar is centered on regenerative agriculture – shifting from a carbon intensive food system to regenerative, carbon-negative agriculture. This shift will mean a radical transformation of how, where and when we grow food, a great expansion of the varieties of seeds grown and a new microclimate-based approach focusing on smallholder farms, intercropping, agroforestry and micro-farming industries.” – One Earth 

Against Regenerative Agriculture Policies:

“The thinking behind regenerative practices as a climate mitigation strategy is to remove carbon dioxide out of the air by storing it as organic carbon in soils. While practices like adding manure can increase soil carbon, the feasibility of scaling such practices over large areas to substantially increase soil carbon and mitigate climate change is much less clear. Our own report analyzing mitigation options in the food and land sector concluded that the practical potential was at best modest due to several challenges” – World Resources Institute blog post

Read more:

What is Regenerative Agriculture? Regeneration International

What is Regenerative Agriculture? Climate Reality Project

Regenerative Organic Agriculture: Rodale Institute

 

Environmental Protection Policies to Benefit the Climate

File:Clearcutting in Southern Finland.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

What is it: Broadly speaking, policies and regulations that are intended to protect the environment go hand-in-hand with climate change mitigation policies. Many resources across the environment, such as forests and oceans, serve as natural carbon sinks that can slow the progress of climate change. Similarly, the destruction of wild landscapes is often associated with further damage to the climate: drilling for oil in protected lands such as industrializing on the natural landscape. Given this correlation, the push for climate policy often moves in lockstep with environmental protection policies, and ensuring natural resources and ecosystems across the environment are protected should be prioritized.

Is it enacted anywhere: On a federal basis, environmental protections often get put into place and rolled back based on the Administration in the White House at any given time, but the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ensures that these types of policies are always discussed and highlighted, while state and local level regulations protecting their environments are ubiquitous in some form or another.

In Favor of Environmental Protection Policies to Benefit the Climate:

“Good stewardship of the environment is not just a personal responsibility, it is a public value… Our duty is to use the land well, and sometimes not to use it at all. This is our responsibility as citizens, but more than that, it is our calling as stewards of the earth.” – President George W. Bush

“The United States can create an ecocide law so that companies can’t pollute. Under ecocide law, any corporation or leaders of corporations who are active in or collude in the destruction of an ecosystem can be brought personally before the court to face criminal prosecution. Corporations kill the environment with impunity, but when brought to courts or sued by those who suffer loss they are only fined so that’s just built in a cost of doing business. But if leaders were held personally and criminally responsible, the discussions in the board rooms would change completely. Further, once the destruction has the name ecocide attached to it, it becomes very unattractive to perpetrate it. All these CEOs are parents and they don’t want their children to know them as people who enacted ecocide. So, once you have a name for this destruction, it becomes a deterrent in itself.” – Sue Miller, Speaker and Outreach for Stop Ecocide

Against Environmental Protection Policies to Benefit the Climate:

“We need to be decreasing our CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. But we are not going to focus on that to the detriment of other environmental indicators.” – Todd Wheeler, Head of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump

Read more:

Climate Change Indicators in the United States: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Protecting climate by protecting nature: IUCN

Six ways nature can protect us from climate change: UN Environment Programme

 

 

This page is a part of the Solar Tribune Series on how individuals and policymakers can tackle climate change. Click here to see the overview of this series and see the other categories of action.

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