California Forest. California has set a prime example  for increasing conservation funding through a cap and trade program that allows for forest offsets.
Northern CA Redwood Forest California Forest. California has set a prime example for increasing conservation funding through a cap and trade program that allows for forest offsets. © Patrick McDonald/TNC Photo Contest 2018

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New Report: California can Use 28 Million Acres of Land to Lead Fight Against Climate Change

The Nature Conservancy report is the first to map out nature-based policy strategies to fast-track the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

Following record-breaking fires in California and Governor Newsom’s Executive order to elevate the role of nature in the state’s fight against climate change,  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) released a report on Thursday identifying nature-based climate solutions necessary to ensure California meets its climate goals and achieves carbon neutrality. 

The report, Nature-Based Climate Solutions: A Roadmap to Accelerate Action in California, highlights conservation, restoration and stewardship strategies suitable for implementation across 28 million acres of California’s diverse natural and working lands – its forests, grasslands, wetlands, farmlands, rangeland, and urban green spaces. The report authors map 13 nature-based solutions and associated strategies that, if acted upon now, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 500 million metric tons cumulatively and save over $24 billion in damages by the year 2050. Importantly, the report also takes into account where disadvantaged and low-income communities live throughout California and overlays that information to enable strategies that can benefit these communities who often experience climate impacts first and most intensely.

“It’s critical for California’s climate solutions to provide direct advantages to communities, especially those most vulnerable to climate impacts.  The unique attribute of nature-based climate strategies is that they provide multiple benefits, from protecting the climate to cleaning our air and water,” says Sydney Chamberlin, policy associate with The Nature Conservancy.  “This report provides a clear roadmap on how we can achieve these multiple benefits.”  

Nature-based climate solutions and their benefits include the following: 

  • Urban Reforestation: California has 1.2 million acres of land suitable for planting trees in cities and allowing carbon to be stored above and below ground, which helps cool hot urban areas. This would result in 54.3 million metric tons of cumulative GHG reductions by 2050 and $2.81 billion saved from reducing GHGs.

  • Reduced Wildfire Severity: California has 13 million acres of land suitable for forest management practices including thinning and prescribed burns to reduce fuel loading and avoid emissions from high-severity fires. This would result in 20.2 million metric tons cumulative GHG reductions by 2100. 

  • Post-Wildfire Reforestation: California has 1.7 million acres of land suitable for actively replanting trees in burned areas to accelerate the regeneration of forests and produce storage for carbon. This would lead to a cumulative GHG reduction of 18 million metric tons by 2050 and result in $932 million saved from reducing GHGs. 

  • Wetland Restoration: California has 1.8 million acres of land suitable for wetland restoration, which can prevent emissions from drained soils while increasing carbon stocks. This would result in 20.2 million metric tons cumulative GHG reductions by 2050 and $1.05 billion saved from reducing GHGs. 

  • Avoided Conversion: California has 3.4 million acres of natural land suitable for avoided conversion, the practice of keeping land intact to ensure that vegetation continues to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This would result in 125.9 million metric tons of cumulative GHG reductions by 2050 and $6.52 billion saved from reducing GHGs.

Of the 28 million acres of land identified in the report, more than 60 percent fall within disadvantaged and low-income communities. Wildfire severity alone offers the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 14 percent of lands that are home to low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Beyond mitigating the impact of climate change, the solutions proposed in the report also promise additional benefits to nature and people. These added contributions include, among others, open space for communities, habitat resilience, improved groundwater recharge, climate connectivity, improved agricultural land, flood risk reduction, and improved habitat for wildlife. 

On the other hand, the report highlights that without immediate intervention California runs the grave risk that its natural and working lands could increasingly become a net source of greenhouse gas emissions, hastening climate change while diminishing the many other benefits that healthy landscapes confer to people and nature. Extreme heat events, droughts, floods, wildfires, and development, for example, promise to continue compromising the ability of California lands to provide climate benefits.

“Nature-based climate solutions provide an immediate and significant opportunity to help California mitigate climate change and protect us from its impacts,” says Michelle Passero, Director of TNC’s California Climate Program, “but for us to realize these benefits in any meaningful way, it must become a bigger priority, and we have to act now.”   

You can read the full report here.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.