A valley dotted with small houses is nestled between two mountain ridges. The rising sun is just breaking over the top of the ridge in the background.
Humpback Rocks Views from this rocky outcrop look west onto the Shenandoah Valley and north to Shenandoah National Park. © Daniel White

Stories in Virginia

How We Work: Climate Change

Protecting and restoring healthy natural systems to withstand a changing climate and rising seas.

Climate change is one of the world’s most urgent challenges and an immediate risk to our communities, our economies and our conservation mission.

An unstable climate and rising seas threaten the things we care about most: the health of our lands and waters, the well-being and prosperity of our communities, and all of our investments in protecting the natural world.

The urgency of the climate crisis demands innovation, and science is telling us that nature must be central to our solutions.

A woman sits on a rock outcropping. Her face is illuminated with the soft pink light of the setting sun.
Protecting Our Planet We all share the responsibility to act. © Daniel White

Addressing Climate Change: The Opportunity

Addressing climate change presents opportunities for innovation in all facets of human life—in how we provide food and goods for a growing population, provide clean and affordable energy for communities, design healthy and livable cities, conserve and protect lands and oceans, and provide clean and stable water sources for future generations.

New thinking and science in these areas can contribute to healthy lands and waters, prosperous communities and strong economies, while also addressing climate threats.

The Nature Conservancy is promoting practical, innovative solutions to create a prosperous, low-carbon future that is cleaner, healthier and more secure for everyone. We are harnessing our knowledge and relationships to encourage reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, investments in nature-based climate solutions and progress toward a prosperous clean-energy future.

Climate change may be one of the most important and difficult challenges humanity has ever faced. But together, we all are part of the solution.

Let's Talk Climate In this webinar, Lena Lewis, TNC Virginia Energy and Climate Policy Manager, offers some concrete ways to engage in meaningful, respectful dialogue on the most pressing issue of our time.


The Nature Conservancy is committed to tackling climate change, both to keep global warming well below 2°C and to help vulnerable people and places deal with the impacts of climate change and increasingly extreme weather conditions. We are doing so by

  • Accelerating the deployment of natural climate solutions
  • Mobilizing action for a clean energy future
  • Building resilience through natural defenses

Across Virginia, TNC is applying natural solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Healthy natural systems, like salt marshes, oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, forests and wetlands, have a better chance of adapting to a changing world.


We address the climate challenge by developing innovative scientific models, pilot projects and financing mechanisms, and by working with policymakers and business leaders to scale up these solutions.

  • We advance policy changes that accelerate the world’s transition to clean energy and increase investment in readily available, cost-effective natural climate solutions.
  • We work to protect people and nature on the frontlines of the most vulnerable communities feeling impacts from climate change, by safeguarding coastlines and helping residents adapt to climate-related threats.
  • In the United States, we use a nonpartisan, inclusive approach to build bridges across the political spectrum and advance policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all 50 states.
  • We work with federal, state, and private stakeholders to demonstrate how large-scale forest restoration and improved forest management can generate economic and environmental benefits

Carbon Connections

A white car is parked in front of an electric charging station. A heavy black cord is plugged into the car.
Electrifying Journeys Any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change depends on reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. © Michael Simons
Graphic comparing the percentage of CO2 emissions created by electricity production versus personal vehicles. 29% is created by the electricity sector with 37% being generated by personal vehicles.
Transportation and CO2 Virginia needs policies to transition quickly to electric vehicles. © TNC

Reducing Carbon Pollution

No one enjoys sitting in traffic. But all those cars and trucks you see on the road—did you know they are the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia? In fact, personal vehicles are responsible for 37% of Virginia’s carbon pollution, far outpacing the entire power sector. 

Any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change depends on reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. 

Fortunately, two achievable solutions are available to Virginia by adopting the Clean Cars Standard and joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Clean Car Standards, which include low-emission and zero-emission vehicle standards, would ensure that more electric vehicles are available for purchase in Virginia and not just in neighboring states. These standards would also hold manufacturers to higher emissions standards for the entire fleet of cars sold in Virginia. 

TNC is supporting these policies, which can alleviate traffic congestion, bring Virginians more and better choices for getting around, and even create economic growth.

Autumn view of forested ridges in the Clinch Valley. Mist fills the valleys as the mountains stretch to the horizon.
Clinch Valley The forests of the Clinch Valley help filter and protect the last free-flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River system. © Jon Golden


Forests help fight climate change by storing carbon in the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves of trees. Since healthy forests absorb more atmospheric carbon than degraded ones, protecting and restoring healthy forests is a key strategy in solving the challenges presented by climate change.

Infographic showing the steps to managing an Appalachian forest to sequester more carbon. Four steps are shown including identifying degraded forests and thinning trees to promote species diversity.
Carbon Sequestration Careful management of forests can enhance species diversity and sequester more carbon. © TNC

Through our Conservation Forestry Program in southwestern Virginia, we’re working to change the short-term thinking that has plagued Appalachian forest management for at least a century. Rather than viewing their timber as a piggy bank to be broken in an emergency, landowners have banked 22,000 acres of private forestland with our program, earning annual dividends and helping protect clean water.

TNC's Conservation Forestry Program is one example of how creative problem solving has provided much needed conservation funding through carbon markets.

The Benefits of Carbon Markets

Creative problem solving is rewarded through carbon markets. When companies must pay for their carbon dioxide pollution, they have a financial incentive to reduce the amount they pollute. This creates business opportunities for sectors that improve energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, renewable energy options, and more.

Infographic showing how limits on carbon emissions can create financial opportunities in Virginia. TNC has sold millions of dollars worth of carbon offsets early money for our forestry programs.
Creating Financial Opportunities TNC has sold millions of dollars in worth of carbon offsets, early money for Virginia landowners and our Conservation Forestry Program. © TNC

Carbon offsets, a component of carbon markets, are credits given to projects that remove carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. These projects require money to develop and maintain. Businesses fund these projects through purchasing carbon offsets, and in return, receive credit for the carbon that project removed from the atmosphere.

In 2014 our Conservation Forestry Program became the first TNC project in the nation to earn and sell certified forest-carbon credits under California’s cap-and-trade program. In 2018, we successfully verified 158,905 tons of carbon captured, offsetting emissions from almost 18 million gallons of gasoline.

With California’s legislature extending the program through 2030, market stability will generate increased revenues, which will enable more on-the-ground forest restoration—a big win for climate, habitat and water quality.

Carbon offsets have made our Conservation Forestry Program economically viable and environmentally sustainable. This is just one example of the potential of carbon markets to create new financial opportunities.

Cypress trees in Lake Drummond, Great Dismal Swamp NWR.
Great Dismal Swamp Morning mist rises over Lake Drummond. © Rebecca Wynn/USFWS (flickr Creative Commons)


Public lands also play a vital role in helping nature and people adjust to our changing climate.

A prime example is the Central Appalachians’ vast 1.8-million-acre George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Our public forests capture carbon; contain an immense variety of habitats, terrains, and elevations; and help connect other conservation lands and waters.

Public lands also serve as outdoor laboratories. In an extension of our partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help restore the “natural plumbing” of Great Dismal Swamp, we are also supporting the Great Dismal Swamp Carbon Project.

A primary goal of the research, which is being led by the U.S. Geological Survey, is to learn how we can manage public lands to capture even more carbon, while also quantifying the trade-offs with other natural benefits, such as wildfire prevention.

It’s carbon science in action, influencing land management at a scale of 100,000 acres.

Natural Climate Solutions

Infographic using multiple colorful lines to show the climate change driven movement of animals across the US and into Canada. The Central Appalachian mountain range provides a path for many species.
Migrations in Motion As climate change alters habitats and disrupts ecosystems, where will
 animals move to survive? Flow models highlight the critical importance of the Appalachian Mountains as a migration corridor for many species. © TNC


As climate change alters habitats and disrupts natural systems, where can animals go to survive? And where do we need strategic conservation action to help them get there?

Using flow models from electronic circuit theory, researchers from TNC and University of Washington plotted likely routes for nearly 3,000 species, highlighting the critical importance of the Appalachian Mountains as a migration corridor.

The Central Appalachians’ rich mosaic of habitats, terrains, and elevations offers viable options for wildlife and plant communities to migrate into more hospitable “neighborhoods.”

Building Resilience

A woman hands an oyster castle, a square block of concrete, to a man. They are both standing in knee deep water.
Coastal Resilience Using oyster castles to build new reefs at Tom's Cove, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, VA. © Daniel White/TNC


Recent evidence suggests that coastal “blue carbon” projects can be just as effective as forests in curbing carbon. Studies even suggest that coastal wetlands can store three to five times more carbon than a same-size tropical forest.

On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, TNC's Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve is protecting and restoring marine systems such as oyster reefs not only for their habitat value, but also increasingly because they may counter climate impacts through binding sediment, reducing wave energy and growing apace with sea-level rise.

Aerial drone view of barge depositing granite substrate for oyster reefs in the Piankatank River.
Building a Reef Granite rock is methodically placed in Virginia's Piankatank River to form the newest, 25-acre oyster reef in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. © Patrick Bloodgood/U.S. Army photo

A major challenge to restoring the Mid-Atlantic’s depleted oyster populations has been a scarcity of natural shells to which juveniles can attach themselves and rebuild reefs. But recent research shows that rock and concrete work just as well.

In July 2018, TNC joined with partners to deploy nearly 4,000 tons of crushed granite in the Piankatank River. The golf-ball-size rocks provide a foundation on which oysters can build.  With 15 acres added alongside previously created oyster sanctuaries, the Piankatank is now home to about 270 acres of oyster reef, with a goal of restoring another 160 acres. 

A man wearing a wetsuit and snorkel stands in waist deep water holding green strands of eelgrass.
Restoration Success Volunteer Al McKegg collects eelgrass shoots in South Bay, Eastern Shore of Virginia. © Alex Novak/The Nature Conservancy

Though less visible and less heralded—so far—than oyster reefs, eelgrass meadows comprise a key part of the mosaic of healthy habitats that also serve communities as an early line of defense against erosion, inundation and storms.

From near total collapse during the 1930s, eelgrass in coastal bays off the Eastern Shore has rebounded to cover nearly 9,000 acres since TNC and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science teamed up to launch the world’s largest seagrass restoration project.

Over the last decade, more than 500 volunteers have helped collect millions of seeds to accelerate the return of eelgrass.  The eelgrass habitat is healthy enough now to spread on its own, but speeding up natural processes improves nature’s chances of keeping pace with climate change.

Flourishing eelgrass meadows offer a natural alternative to traditional engineering for addressing coastal erosion; capturing carbon emissions; and providing vital habitat for fish, crabs, and bay scallops.

Supporting Communities Helping Eastern Shore communities plan and prepare for the impacts of sea level rise and more frequent storms.


The Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve continues to serve as an extraordinary living laboratory, advancing scientific understanding of how nature can help coastal communities here and around the world better withstand the effects of our changing climate.

The Coastal Resilience Mapping and Decision Support tool, an interactive online app, collects this knowledge and empowers localities with the information they need to plan for a better future.

Using local data and information, the online decision-support tool incorporates the best available science, allowing communities to visualize the risks imposed by sea-level rise and storm surge and enabling identification of nature-based solutions to mitigate risk and enhance resilience.

​Knowing the risks and understanding potential nature-based solutions will empower coastal communities to adapt and thrive for the long term.

Clean Energy

We work in the U.S. and at the global level to broaden support for climate action, strengthen climate policies to reduce emissions, create opportunities for investment in clean energy, promote low-carbon economic growth, and site renewables appropriately.

Embracing clean energy is a winning proposition for people and the planet. In many countries, the renewable energy sector currently employs more people and creates more new jobs than the fossil fuel sector, and it is still growing.

The rapid rate of innovation has caused prices for renewable energy to drop, in many places becoming competitive with fossil fuels. A report released in 2017 shows that the cost of solar energy is dropping at a rate of 4.4 percent worldwide each year, and the cost of wind energy has dropped 65 percent since 2009 and may drop an additional 50 percent by 2030.

Two humpback whales swim together in a deep blue ocean.
Minimizing Impact Making informed decisions will help keep marine mammals and other sea life out of harm's way. © Ethan Daniels

We are also helping ensure that renewable energy installations are sited in a way that minimizes impact on ecosystems. TNC created the Ocean Data Portal, an interactive site with hundreds of maps with rich information on marine wildlife, habitats and human activities.

Ocean planners are using this tool to make smarter decisions and help solve challenges such as placing potential wind turbines to keep seabirds and marine mammals out of harm’s way.

TNC recognizes that climate change will inflict human suffering and jeopardize the survival of many species. That’s why we are committed to bringing people together, forging science-based solutions and influencing policy decisions. 

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