Enhancing America’s Natural Resources to Reduce the Impacts of Climate Change
As world leaders meet in Paris this week working towards an international climate agreement, at home, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change threaten the daily lives of Americans across the country. Extreme weather, flooding, drought, wildfires and other impacts of climate change are having devastating effects on local communities, but also on the health of our nation’s land, water and wildlife.
While our incredible natural resources are at risk in a changing climate, they also play an important role in protecting the United States against the impacts of climate change. Each year, our forests offset nearly 14 percent of domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and coastal areas serve as important buffers protecting communities from flooding, storm surges, and extreme weather. Furthermore, advancements in agricultural practices create potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining agricultural yield and improving profits.
That is why the Obama Administration is taking action to strengthen the ability of our natural resources and land sector to remove carbon from the atmosphere and provide natural buffers to protect communities against climate change impacts. Today, the White House released a progress report, Climate Change and the Land Sector: Improving Measurement, Mitigation and Resilience of our Natural Resources, to highlight the comprehensive approach across federal agencies to improve our understanding of land sector emissions and implement programs that reduce emissions and protect our natural resources and the communities that rely on them. These agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Defense.
One of the greatest areas of focus has been improving the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks. The federal government has been working across agencies to ensure that annual emissions and sinks, which remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere, are adequately tracked and incorporated into projections of future emissions. Improved data, modeling and planning tools will provide more accountability and transparency, allowing agencies to more accurately track annual emissions, sinks, and the impact of mitigation activities on our ever-changing land sector.
For example, USDA, USFS, and EPA are working to integrate existing data sets and expand field surveys to more accurately track land-use change and management. This will allow the public and private sector to identify opportunities for improvements in agricultural practices. Additionally, NOAA, working with EPA, is leading efforts to develop estimates of emissions from coastal wetlands to provide us with a better understanding of the role that these ecosystems play in our carbon cycle.
The United States has also been focused on increasing carbon stocks and reducing net GHG emissions through sustainable, climate-smart land management in croplands, forests, and grasslands. Earlier this year, the USDA implemented “10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry” that will reduce net emissions by about 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2025 by improving soil health, promoting efficient management, and enhancing sequestration on forest lands. These emissions cuts are equivalent to taking more than 25 million cars off the road each year. Complementing USDA’s efforts, dozens of companies have committed to reduce their emissions footprint and are developing tools to guide reductions in carbon emissions across the agricultural supply chains.
In addition to mitigating emissions, adapting to climate change and building ecosystem and community resilience is critical to ensuring a sustainable and secure future. Through the President’s Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources, federal agencies are implementing actions that support comprehensive land and water resilience. For example, through a new Resilient Lands and Water Initiative, seven flagship locations are the focus of collaborative, landscape scale conservation and restoration efforts that aim to build resilience of those ecosystems to a changing climate.
When President Obama released his Climate Action Plan more than two years ago, he instructed agencies to identify new approaches to protect and restore America’s forests, grasslands and wetlands, and promote sustainable and climate-smart natural resource management practices. The progress that we’ve made to date is impressive. But there’s more to do. We will continue to work toward creating a healthier and more sustainable world that is worthy of our children.