Photo showing a green strip of lawn between two sides of trees, with a field of corn in the background.
Natural climate solutions work The Meaker Farm Project in Montrose, Colorado, demonstrates forest and fire management and irrigation efficiency projects. © Ken Geiger/TNC

Policy

How U.S. Policies Can Support Natural Climate Solutions

U.S. policy can leverage nature to address climate change while benefiting farmers, foresters and more.

American farmers, ranchers and forest owners are on the front lines of climate change. Natural solutions through habitat protection and restoration and climate-smart practices on working lands can provide one-fifth of the emissions reductions needed to reach our climate goals. Together with a transition to clean energy, these actions will create a more sustainable and resilient future.

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A real commitment to natural climate solutions involves all lands across the American landscape. From farm and ranch lands to private and public forests to coastal wetlands, it’s about enhancing the ability to store carbon through voluntary conservation programs, climate-smart practices, and investing in research.

People and nature face immense challenges from the impacts of climate change. The Nature Conservancy supports actions to provide farmers, ranchers and private forest owners with climate-smart tools they need to adapt, mitigate and become more resilient to climate change.

Through climate-smart agriculture, we can produce food in ways that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while improving habitat and protecting biodiversity. In many cases, climate-smart (regenerative) food systems are more productive than conventional systems while preserving the livelihoods of the farmers, and ranchers.

Natural Climate Solutions Explained (3:01) In this video, it's the future, and we look back on how we saved the world with nature. In the 2020s, we learned that nature could pull 11 billion metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. This was a full third of the emission reductions we needed! So how did nature do all this?

Similarly, we can enhance our forests’ ability to store carbon while protecting drinking water, improving wildlife habitat and increasing fiber supplies by:

  1. Increasing reforestation, controlling invasive species, and growing forests to greater maturity;
  2. Protecting carbon stocks through avoided conversion; and
  3. Reducing emissions from uncharacteristically severe wildfires through the use of controlled burning.

Restoring coastal habitats can also make a significant contribution to climate mitigation. Coastal wetlands store more carbon per acre than forests while protecting communities from flooding and improving habitat and water quality.

Photo of a woman in jeans planting a young seedling tree.
Natural solutions Planting a young tree seedling at Hubbardton River Claypan Natural Area in Vermont. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Increased investments and climate-smart policies would support nature as a critical component of a comprehensive climate solution. The following policies address gaps in funding, science, markets and climate-smart practices:

Supporting Private Landowners

Providing voluntary, incentive-based tools for farmers, ranchers and forest owners is key to optimizing the sequestration of carbon, preventing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing the resilience of natural and working lands.

  • Use tools like those in the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) to reduce barriers to participation in carbon markets by farmers and forest landowners
  • Provide federal loan guarantees to de-risk private capital investment in projects that help family forest owners using similar mechanisms as in the Rural Forest Markets Act.
  • Develop a transferrable tax credit program that would reward farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for verified carbon sequestration.
  • Establish a Forest Conservation Easement Program with new funding to prevent conversion risks and enhance carbon sequestration.
  • Expand funding and flexibility for technical assistance to help farmers and foresters adopt emission-reducing practices.
  • Advance pilot projects designed to test and inform federal policies and programs to accelerate the voluntary adoption of natural climate solutions.
  • Develop an efficient and effective carbon bank to sequester carbon in natural working lands and help scale voluntary carbon markets.
  • Provide mandatory funding for the National Grazing Lands Coalition and amend the program purpose to add soil health and grazing system resilience.
Photo of a rancher riding on a horse on an Idaho ranch, with cattle in the background.
Solutions on the ranch Transferrable tax credits and other incentives can encourage ranchers to adopt climate-friendly practices. © Bridget Besaw

Improving Public Land Management

Federal agencies need climate-informed planning and policy tools to restore and manage forests and coastal wetlands in ways that increase their ability store carbon, ensure their resilience, protect clean drinking water, support biodiversity, and secure these areas for generations.

  • Issue science-based guidance regarding carbon management principles to protect existing carbon stocks and enhance carbon sequestration.
  • Ensure agency budget allocations prioritize climate mitigation and adaptation outcomes by investing in federal forests and coastal wetlands programs, including the USFS Vegetation and Watershed Management, DOI Burned Area Rehabilitation, and NOAA Restoration Center programs.
  • Address the reforestation backlog on national forests through the REPLANT Act and complementary policies to support expansion of seed banks, nurseries and workforce training.
  • Increase tree planting investments in communities, including investments in urban canopy maintenance, with a focus on increased tree equity across cities.
Photo of picnickers sitting on the grass at a Queens Park, city buildings in background.
Natural benefits Investments in natural climate solutions can provide many other benefits, including recreation and clean water. Gantry Plaza State Park, East River in Queens, New York. © Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Funding Research and Development

Decisions about land management and accounting for carbon storage must be grounded in science.

  • Increase capacity of USDA Climate Hubs and other research units for delivering climate-related science.
  • Update national forest-level carbon assessments every five years with publicly available data, trend analysis and state-level information.
  • Create universal protocols for measurement across agencies, including the Agricultural Research Service.
  • Complete life cycle analysis to inform policies to increase use of wood products to ensure net
  • emissions reductions and guard against unintended consequences.
  • Incorporate climate considerations into all forest restoration and reforestation activities.
  • Improve data development, integration, and accessibility across agencies and increase investments in research programs, such as the USFS Forest Inventory and Analysis Program; USDA’s COMET Tool; NASA’s GEDI and Landsat programs; USFS/DOI LANDFIRE program; the National Land Cover Database; the EPA’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory; NRCS National Resources Inventory and Conservation Effects Assessment Project; NOAA’s Digital Coast public-private partnership.