Obama’s Climate Action Plan Acknowledges Role of Nature in Solutions

On Tuesday, United States President Barack Obama laid out his Climate Action Plan in Washington, D.C. His much-talked-about speech on the steps of Georgetown University promised a number of initiatives that you have likely already heard about: reducing emissions from America’s power plants, improving energy efficiency, expanding the renewable energy sector, private sector engagement and other actions.

sunset in Death Valley National Park

Sunset in Death Valley National Park. (© CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier)

These are important goals. We need businesses, universities and governments to invest in R&D for low-carbon energy technologies: wind, solar, carbon capture, smart natural gas extraction, nuclear energy. All of these sources of energy need to be part of the equation.

Our economy is sensitive, and any radical shift in the energy sector could certainly have a short-term impact in the economy. We should understand that disruptions create uncertainty and lack of confidence and slow down investment. The truth, sadly, is that not addressing climate change is an unacceptable option, especially as the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere recently surpassed 400 parts per million, a threshold that scientists have widely warned is dangerous and unsustainable.

Working in more than 40 countries across the planet, CI teams have experienced the dramatic and demoralizing impact of radical shifts in precipitation as well as extreme weather events on the security of nations and communities. Not embracing the transition to low-carbon fuels leaves us exposed and unprepared.

Nature-based solutions that emphasize the importance of conserving healthy ecosystems to slow the impacts of global climate change, increase communities’ resiliency to these impacts and protect America’s economic and national security interests are another key component to addressing a changing climate. We hope that increased attention to these solutions will quickly follow across many sectors.

Many of CI’s key thought leaders on climate issues watched and commented on the President’s plan on Tuesday, including the managing director of our carbon finance program and our climate adaptation lead. I depend on the input and analysis of many of CI’s scientists and sector leads, and share their comments with you here:

Reducing emissions from deforestation:

“It’s encouraging to see the Obama Administration clearly stating that the conservation of ecosystems — and reducing deforestation (REDD+) in particular — was noted as a fundamental element of protecting the planet from a changing climate.

“The fact that the work of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a public-private partnership meant to reduce deforestation from agricultural supply chains (of which CI is a member), was specifically mentioned is also good news. We are eager to work with both the Administration and the Congress to secure the funds needed to support the reduction of deforestation in the Americas, Asia and Africa.”

Agustin Silvani, managing director of carbon finance in CI’s Ecosystem Finance and Markets division

Nature-based climate change adaptation

“CI’s experience has shown that natural ecosystems offer one of the most effective tools to both reduce carbon emissions to limit future warming, and to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change we are experiencing today.

“As the President’s plan — which includes supporting climate-resilient investments — recognizes, ecosystem-based adaptation focuses on the contributions of healthy ecosystems to agricultural production, water availability and storm buffering, to name a few crucial benefits nature provides. Measures to continue research and broaden understanding of these approaches will enhance our resilience against the adverse impacts of climate change, including storms and other disasters.”

Shyla Raghav, senior manager of climate adaptation policy in CI’s Center for Environment and Peace

As Shyla says, building resilience to the impacts and future threats of global climate change is key. Nature gives us incredibly efficient tools to do this, and must be prioritized in global, regional and local solutions.

The U.S. needs to embrace its responsibility as a global leader and collaborate with all nations, especially China, to build trust and success in finding solutions to the clear and present danger posed by shifting weather, water, ocean and food production patterns.

President Obama’s plan is but the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long, complex, evolving process that will require broad bipartisan support as well as thoughtful negotiations with leaders in business, communities and civil society. This is an important step in demonstrating American leadership and cooperation on these urgent issues that threaten so many people across the world.

Peter Seligmann is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Conservation International.

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