A collage of photos of people from all around the world, animals and landscapes against a black background
PHOTO CREDIT: (L to R) ©Tim Calver, ©Nick Hall, ©Jeanette Hazeldine, ©Juan Arredondo, ©Paul Selvaggio, ©Pat Kane, ©Liang Shen, ©Robyn Gianni, ©Nick Hall, ©Ted Wood, ©Roshni Lodhia

Perspectives

9 Places Where People Are a Force for Nature

Local heroes across the globe remind us nature is personal, and show what leadership looks like in a world of change

We are all hoping for that news headline that shows us turning the corner—something showing us a glint of a more just, stable and sustainable world. And while it can be hard to imagine what this future looks like, one thing is certain: how essential we all are to each other. People to people. People to nature. Nature to everything.

Indeed, these connections are the bedrock of our existence—when nature thrives, people thrive. But even when we acknowledge this truth on a planetary scale, it’s easy to lose sight of what that means to individual communities and individual people. Thriving means a family finding security through a new way of raising food; it’s a struggling community rebuilding its economy around climate resilience; it’s an Indigenous community once held at the margins of society stepping forward to lead ambitious national action.

In many ways 2020 can feel like a lost year, but even now people and nature find ways to thrive, together—let’s not forget what that looks like. These stories from across the globe remind us that we can achieve incredible things—but it starts with each of us acknowledging we are part of something greater than ourselves.

 

View of rocky coast next to a lake with a colorful sunset in the background
Great Slave Lake North America’s deepest lake—Tu Nedhé in Denesoline—is located here in the Northwest Territories, situated at the juncture of carbon-rich boreal forests and barren tundra. © Pat Kane
A man stands outside in a winter environment
Dennis Drygeese is the language coordinator for Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in Canada's Northwest Territories. © Pat Kane
A group of eight men are yelling and beating drums
Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation celebrated the signing of the Establishment Agreements with Parks Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories with a fire ceremony and drum circle. © Pat Kane 2019
A landscape of with evergreens, lake and mountains
Thaidene Nene Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation and Nature United have been working in partnership for more than 10 years to advance the nation’s vision for their traditional homeland in NWT. © Pat Kane
A close up of a ranger's arm with an eagle patch
Ni Hat’ni Dene rangers practice a traditional subsistence lifestyle while conducting environmental monitoring on Thaidene Nëné’s 6.5 million acres. © Pat Kane
A young boy collecting leaves reaches for a tree branch
Łutsël K’é Dene youth learn valuable skills and traditional stewardship from the Ni Hat’ni Dene rangers. © Pat Kane
A man stands outside in a winter environment
Dennis Drygeese is the language coordinator for Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in Canada's Northwest Territories. © Pat Kane

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“When I was a young kid I’ll always remember my uncles coming back from the barren lands with caribou meat, and I always wanted to go hunting with them. My grandmother always said, ‘it’s too cold for you. Only Thaidenes can survive on that land.’”

A group of eight men are yelling and beating drums
Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation celebrated the signing of the Establishment Agreements with Parks Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories with a fire ceremony and drum circle. © Pat Kane 2019

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The land of Dennis Drygeese and his grandmother is the inheritance of the Lutsël K’é Dene First Nation, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT). After decades of effort, Lutsël K’é Dene achieved protection for 6.5 million acres of their homeland in 2019. They named the protected area Thaidene Nëné—meaning “land of the ancestors” in the Denesoline language.

A landscape of with evergreens, lake and mountains
Thaidene Nene Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation and Nature United have been working in partnership for more than 10 years to advance the nation’s vision for their traditional homeland in NWT. © Pat Kane

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And this is no ordinary national park. The First Nation, the government of the Northwest Territories and Parks Canada established a co-governance relationship that ensures ecological protection while honoring the rights of the Lutsël K’é Dene First Nation.

A close up of a ranger's arm with an eagle patch
Ni Hat’ni Dene rangers practice a traditional subsistence lifestyle while conducting environmental monitoring on Thaidene Nëné’s 6.5 million acres. © Pat Kane

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Today, Lutsël K’é’s Indigenous Guardian program, Ni Hat’ni Dene, is key to protecting the Dene’s ancestral lands, and teaching the younger generations to become stewards themselves ensures their traditions live on.

A young boy collecting leaves reaches for a tree branch
Łutsël K’é Dene youth learn valuable skills and traditional stewardship from the Ni Hat’ni Dene rangers. © Pat Kane

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Tracey Williams, conservation lead for the Northwest Territories with Nature United, TNC’s Canadian affiliate, has seen a positive impact. “There’s a whole cadre of youth individuals that had their lives changed because they were able to have these intensive on-the-land experiences, this intergenerational transfer of knowledge about place that you can’t get from a textbook or a lecture.”

A tree covered hill rises up out of cleared farmland, with a view of flat land in the distance
LAND OF PLENTY Both the Andes and the Amazon foster biodiverse habitats on the Colombian landscape, home to nearly 10 percent of Earth’s wildlife species. © Juan Arredondo
a smiling woman in a hat leans up against a small tree
Guerrero is the president of an association of displaced farmers in Meta, Colombia, where she and her family relocated after fleeing guerilla violence. She had no prior experience running a farm. © Juan Arredondo
an older man holds tree planting equipment
Edilson Ortiz Arango lost everything—including a herd of 45 cows and his home—when his family escaped the armed conflict. With his wife and nine children, he built a new sustainable farm. © Juan Arredondo
white cows graze in a green field with mountains behind
Cattle occupy 80 percent of Colombia’s agricultural land, about 88 million acres. © Juan Arredondo
a woman in a red shirt has her hands placed on her cows
Through TNC’s Regenerative Ranching and Agriculture (R2A) program, more than 4,000 ranchers have been able to restore habitat while increasing land productivity. They’ve planted 3.5M trees to date. © Juan Arredondo
an overgrown forest surrounding a small, rocky stream
This forest is part of Farm Rosania, which is part of the sustainable ranching program. TNC has been closely monitoring the population of wildlife in the area, registering 521 species of birds. © Juan Arredondo
a smiling woman in a hat leans up against a small tree
Guerrero is the president of an association of displaced farmers in Meta, Colombia, where she and her family relocated after fleeing guerilla violence. She had no prior experience running a farm. © Juan Arredondo

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“To me, I’m at peace when I’m on my farm,” says Blanca Raquel Guerrero. “I feel as though I’ve amounted to something.”

an older man holds tree planting equipment
Edilson Ortiz Arango lost everything—including a herd of 45 cows and his home—when his family escaped the armed conflict. With his wife and nine children, he built a new sustainable farm. © Juan Arredondo

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With millions displaced in the course of a civil war that has spanned generations, Colombians don’t take peace for granted. And like Guerrero, many were forced to resettle on lands the government seized from narcotraffickers and money launderers. It was a fragile lifeline. The farmers would have to negotiate with the land itself for a livelihood, healing and security.

white cows graze in a green field with mountains behind
Cattle occupy 80 percent of Colombia’s agricultural land, about 88 million acres. © Juan Arredondo

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“When I arrived, the only trees we could see were in the distance on the foothills,” Guerrero says. She planted citrus, mango and cashew trees on her barren plot of scrubland. One government-issued cow begot a small herd—but their pastures withered each summer, starving some of the cattle.

a woman in a red shirt has her hands placed on her cows
Through TNC’s Regenerative Ranching and Agriculture (R2A) program, more than 4,000 ranchers have been able to restore habitat while increasing land productivity. They’ve planted 3.5M trees to date. © Juan Arredondo

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That changed in 2012, when Guerrero joined a sustainable cattle-ranching program TNC and partners hosted in her community. She now lives among 6,000 trees and shrubs that support her 17 cows. The dense vegetation attracts a variety of rainforest birds and mammals. Nationwide, more than 4,000 have joined the sustainable cattle-ranching program—and Guerrero has become a sought-after expert in her community.

an overgrown forest surrounding a small, rocky stream
This forest is part of Farm Rosania, which is part of the sustainable ranching program. TNC has been closely monitoring the population of wildlife in the area, registering 521 species of birds. © Juan Arredondo

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“These ranchers have learned to protect land, promote productivity of dairy cattle and increase connectivity in agricultural areas,” says TNC’s Andrés Zuluaga. “Their trees and plants have become stepping stones for biodiversity to create a mosaic of natural areas.”

small acacia trees dot a grassland landscape, forming a pattern of trees in greens and browns
NAMUNYAK WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY Like other member conservancies of the Northern Rangelands Trust, this conservancy’s efforts to protect local wildlife and habitat are community led. © Ami Vitale
four giraffes stand in a grassland near acacia trees
Giraffes roam Kenya’s Pardamat Conservation Area, just northeast of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. © Roshni Lodhia
a man stands at the front of a classroom of children
Soit represents 850 landowners in the Pardamat Conservation Area, which adjoins other area conservancies to create a large swath of connected habitat. © Roshni Lodhia
three posts wrapped in wire fencing against stormy sky
Wildlife and livestock increasingly compete for space in Pardamat. © Roshni Lodhia
close up of young zebra staring into camera
With support from TNC & USAID, 15,000 landowners now earn an income by creating unfenced areas for wildlife, tourism and livestock on their land. © Roshni Lodhia
a young child looks at chalk drawing of elephant
Soit says that wild animals that had disappeared from the area, such as wild dogs and giraffes, have begun to return since landowners started taking down fences. © Roshni Lodhia
four giraffes stand in a grassland near acacia trees
Giraffes roam Kenya’s Pardamat Conservation Area, just northeast of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. © Roshni Lodhia

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The Maasai have coexisted with the most iconic of African megafauna for thousands of years in southwest Kenya. But recently, the landscape has changed.

a man stands at the front of a classroom of children
Soit represents 850 landowners in the Pardamat Conservation Area, which adjoins other area conservancies to create a large swath of connected habitat. © Roshni Lodhia

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“When I was young, actually the whole place was open so animals were everywhere,” says Johnson Soit, Pardamat Conservation Area Board Chair and head teacher at Rekero Primary School. “There were so many—you could hardly walk a kilometer without seeing an elephant or even a lion.”

three posts wrapped in wire fencing against stormy sky
Wildlife and livestock increasingly compete for space in Pardamat. © Roshni Lodhia

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Then, in the early 2000s, legal titles carved claims into this landscape for the very first time, as landowners fenced in their newly titled lands. But the fences interrupted ancient customs: the free ramblings of wildlife in search of food, water and breeding grounds.

close up of young zebra staring into camera
With support from TNC & USAID, 15,000 landowners now earn an income by creating unfenced areas for wildlife, tourism and livestock on their land. © Roshni Lodhia

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Soit decided to find a way to work with nature in his homeland. Like many other local landowners, he now leases his unfenced land to one of the 15 community conservancies of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association—this translates to added income for his family, and room for wildlife to roam free.

a young child looks at chalk drawing of elephant
Soit says that wild animals that had disappeared from the area, such as wild dogs and giraffes, have begun to return since landowners started taking down fences. © Roshni Lodhia

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“I don’t want my kids going to a zoo to see animals that once belonged to us. It’s a collective responsibility that we protect our wildlife on our ancestral lands.”

aerial view of brown and green grassland with meandering rivers
NATIONAL HERITAGE Both federal and local governments have collaborated to protect nearly 150 million acres across Mongolia, including endangered grasslands like those seen here. © Chris Pague/TNC
Group of yurts in grassland against mountain landscape
Grasslands are the planet’s most imperiled landscape—almost half have already been degraded or lost, and only 5 percent are protected globally. © Xijian/iStock
portrait of woman sitting on ground milking a cow
A young girl milks her family’s cows on the edge of Toson Hulstai Nature Reserve, where TNC monitors wildlife migration pathways to identify key protection areas. © Nick Hall
a young boy on a horse herds goat in a grassland
A young boy minds his family's herd of goats in the grassland steppe of eastern Mongolia's Tosonhulstai Nature Reserve. © Nick Hall
Close up of demoiselle cranes walking through grassland
TNC has helped over 2,000 herders organize into 52 community-based organizations and gain their legal land access rights across 3 million acres across the country. © Tuguldur Enkhtsetseg/TNC
vast grassy landscape with soft colors shot at dusk
"The work that the CBOs initiate [preserve and revive this unique tradition of efficiently using pastureland and living in harmony with nature]," says TNC’s Enkhtuya Oidov. © Nick Hall
close up portrait of man outside holding binoculars
TNC has helped over 2,000 herders organize into 52 CBOs and gain their legal land access rights across 3 million acres. Galbadrakh Davaa, TNC’s director of conservation in Mongolia, is pictured above. © Ted Wood
Group of yurts in grassland against mountain landscape
Grasslands are the planet’s most imperiled landscape—almost half have already been degraded or lost, and only 5 percent are protected globally. © Xijian/iStock

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Mongolia’s heritage survives on its grassland landscape—one of the last remaining of its kind. Almost a third of the population is made up of nomadic herders who rely directly on nature.

portrait of woman sitting on ground milking a cow
A young girl milks her family’s cows on the edge of Toson Hulstai Nature Reserve, where TNC monitors wildlife migration pathways to identify key protection areas. © Nick Hall

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“Mongolians are very proud of their heritage and their nomadic culture, and the families of many of the people in parliament are still herders,” says Galbadrakh Davaa, director of TNC’s Mongolia program. “Because of that close connection with the landscape, they deeply understand that Mongolian culture and identity depend on nature.”

a young boy on a horse herds goat in a grassland
A young boy minds his family's herd of goats in the grassland steppe of eastern Mongolia's Tosonhulstai Nature Reserve. © Nick Hall

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The country’s Eastern Steppe—10 times larger than the African Serengeti—is the world’s largest intact temperate grassland. In 2019, Mongolia made a landmark commitment to formally protect 20 percent of its territory—but local communities remain the first line of defense.

Close up of demoiselle cranes walking through grassland
TNC has helped over 2,000 herders organize into 52 community-based organizations and gain their legal land access rights across 3 million acres across the country. © Tuguldur Enkhtsetseg/TNC

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“The conditions were different when I was younger—I remember this place with tall karagana and rich grass and my parents had no problem agreeing with the neighbors on pastureland use,” says Sukhtsogzol, a leader in her local community-based organization (CBO). “But now, we can hardly find a decent place to graze our animals. I don’t blame nature; we did this to ourselves, and so we can change the situation ourselves.”

vast grassy landscape with soft colors shot at dusk
"The work that the CBOs initiate [preserve and revive this unique tradition of efficiently using pastureland and living in harmony with nature]," says TNC’s Enkhtuya Oidov. © Nick Hall

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Thanks in part to the CBOs, the nineteenth-largest country in the world is now leading the charge toward protecting 30 percent of Earth’s lands.

close up portrait of man outside holding binoculars
TNC has helped over 2,000 herders organize into 52 CBOs and gain their legal land access rights across 3 million acres. Galbadrakh Davaa, TNC’s director of conservation in Mongolia, is pictured above. © Ted Wood

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“[Mongolia is] one of the least populated countries, and we still have an opportunity to manage our land and resources sustainably for the interest of Mongolian people,” says Davaa. “That opportunity’s not lost yet, and we have to do it right, right now, before it’s too late.”

aerial view of suburban neighborhood with houses and buildings and lots of trees throughout
SUBURBS AT SUNRISE Often considered one of the world’s most “liveable” cities, Melbourne has devoted about 19 percent of the metropolitan area to green space. © iStock
view of Melbourne skyline with trees in foreground
Urban trees come at a bargain: a study by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California found that every US$1 spent on tree planting and maintenance produced $5.82 in benefits. © Visualspace/iStock
a moreton bay fig tree with sprawling roots & branches
While native trees generate the greatest benefits for wildlife, urban trees of all kinds—including the magnificent Moreton Bay Fig—can improve quality of life for city residents. © Fabiofoto/iStock
close up view of colorful red and blue bird on branch
Australian cities tend toward low levels of population density and a larger physical footprint, so a growing population could mean the loss of natural vegetation that fosters wildlife. © Jeanette Hazeldine
top down shot of housing development with trees
In addition to nurturing public green space, Melbourne aims to increase the tree canopy on private land, which lends to greater habitat connectivity—that is, uninterrupted urban forest. © Tom Rumble
close up of small brown bird on a branch
More connected forests allow biodiversity to flourish, protecting native wildlife such as the Brown Thornbill. © Christian Bunyip Alexander/iStock
view of Melbourne skyline with trees in foreground
Urban trees come at a bargain: a study by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California found that every US$1 spent on tree planting and maintenance produced $5.82 in benefits. © Visualspace/iStock

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When Melbourne gave 70,000 trees email addresses, their inboxes were inundated with love letters.

a moreton bay fig tree with sprawling roots & branches
While native trees generate the greatest benefits for wildlife, urban trees of all kinds—including the magnificent Moreton Bay Fig—can improve quality of life for city residents. © Fabiofoto/iStock

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“Dear Moreton Bay Fig, You are beautiful. Sometimes I sit or walk under you and feel happier. I love the way the light looks through your leaves and how your branches come down so low and wide it is almost as if you are trying to hug me.”

close up view of colorful red and blue bird on branch
Australian cities tend toward low levels of population density and a larger physical footprint, so a growing population could mean the loss of natural vegetation that fosters wildlife. © Jeanette Hazeldine

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But this city is growing—and new development often encroaches on its invaluable urban forest.

top down shot of housing development with trees
In addition to nurturing public green space, Melbourne aims to increase the tree canopy on private land, which lends to greater habitat connectivity—that is, uninterrupted urban forest. © Tom Rumble

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Nature faces similar pressure worldwide, but Melbourne is one of the first major cities to develop a plan to protect and restore green space on a metropolitan scale. A broad coalition of public and private sector partners have committed to nurture abundant nature across the region, promoting equitable public health benefits and natural infrastructure solutions in the process.

close up of small brown bird on a branch
More connected forests allow biodiversity to flourish, protecting native wildlife such as the Brown Thornbill. © Christian Bunyip Alexander/iStock

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“It’s really rewarding seeing small birds like thornbills, scrubwrens and robins populating revegetated creeklines, urban parks and even backyards,” says James Fitzsimons, director of conservation and science for TNC’s Australia program. “This new plan we call “greenprinting” should accelerate this encouraging trend.”

expansive view of green islands rising up out of blue ocean with palm trees in foreground
CHUUK LAGOON, WENO The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is one of six political jurisdictions of the Micronesian region, which is made up of thousands of islands. © Marek Okon
aerial view of island, blue water and sandbars
This is the “blue corner” of Palau, one of the six political jurisdictions of Micronesia. © Ian Shive
portrait of woman wearing flower crown on head
In 2017, Reyuw joined a TNC workshop that brought women across the region together to discuss how climate change was affecting their day-to-day lives. © Tim Calver
a man stands in water with fishing net
Islanders have had to adapt (ALL INTERNAL RIGHTS, LIMITED EXTERNAL RIGHTS) Houvr Alik, one of the family members of the 10 family group that owns the Yela Forest, fishing on the reef infron of the Yela forest on the island of Kosrae, Micronesia. On the island of Kosrae in Micronesia The Nature Conservancy Protects the last Ka forest of its kind in the world with a ground breaking conservation easement involving 10 indigenous families. Photo credit: © Nick Hall © Nick Hall
a smiling woman stands in plant nursery
The Micronesian Challenge endeavors to rally 650,000 people from over 2,000 islands representing five of the six political jurisdictions. Their territory represents 20 percent of the Pacific Islands. © Tim Calver
a woman sits along eroding coastline
Preserving taro, planting drought-resistant crops, farming in the shade of trees: these are just some of the traditional approaches informing Micronesian leaders in the face of climate change. © Tim Calver
aerial view of island, blue water and sandbars
This is the “blue corner” of Palau, one of the six political jurisdictions of Micronesia. © Ian Shive

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The islands of Micronesia are separated by the ocean even as it unites them in rich coastal traditions—and a common fate.

portrait of woman wearing flower crown on head
In 2017, Reyuw joined a TNC workshop that brought women across the region together to discuss how climate change was affecting their day-to-day lives. © Tim Calver

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“Coming from Yap, a small island, climate change is big to us. We face a lot of impacts from climate change like sea level rise coming onto our land, getting into our taro patches,” says Bertha Reyuw, Capacity Building Coordinator for the Micronesia Conservation Trust.

a man stands in water with fishing net
Islanders have had to adapt (ALL INTERNAL RIGHTS, LIMITED EXTERNAL RIGHTS) Houvr Alik, one of the family members of the 10 family group that owns the Yela Forest, fishing on the reef infron of the Yela forest on the island of Kosrae, Micronesia. On the island of Kosrae in Micronesia The Nature Conservancy Protects the last Ka forest of its kind in the world with a ground breaking conservation easement involving 10 indigenous families. Photo credit: © Nick Hall © Nick Hall

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“We are islanders living off the sea, so our food security is at stake. Most of our homes are along the shoreline, so many people may have to move inland, but not everybody has land to move inland.”

a smiling woman stands in plant nursery
The Micronesian Challenge endeavors to rally 650,000 people from over 2,000 islands representing five of the six political jurisdictions. Their territory represents 20 percent of the Pacific Islands. © Tim Calver

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On a regional scale, the Micronesian islands are collaborating to conserve 30 percent of near-shore marine resources by the end of 2020. Reyuw’s community has planted coastal trees to help defend the shoreline—and moreover, the Yapese way of life.

a woman sits along eroding coastline
Preserving taro, planting drought-resistant crops, farming in the shade of trees: these are just some of the traditional approaches informing Micronesian leaders in the face of climate change. © Tim Calver

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“The older generation who is here talking about climate change, we really have to learn from them. They have so much knowledge that we need to feed on, because they’ll be gone soon and it’s us who will still be here. We need that knowledge to continue the work that we are doing today, and it’s our future and our children’s future that we have to secure.”

sweeping view of tree-covered mountains with autumn leaves changing
PANTHER KNOB PRESERVE Bears, bobcats and gray foxes hunt the slopes of oak and pine on this TNC-protected area in West Virginia. © Kent Mason
man holds a hardhat, sits on a pile of reclaimed bricks
Coal mines once employed hundreds of thousands of people in the state and provided a steady source of revenue. © Annie O'Neill
aerial view of west virginia town along a river
Coalfield Development has helped create jobs installing solar panels on houses that, as Dennison puts it, “were built with money from the coal industry.” © Christopher Boswell/iStock
woman installs solar panel on a roof
Accelerating clean energy development is essential to mitigating climate change, and building new infrastructure on retired mine lands instead of relatively untouched natural lands is key. © Power of Forever Photography/iStock
reclaimed mine land with new plant growth
The U.S. EPA estimates that as many as 43 million acres of “brownfields”—lands previously developed for industrial purposes—could potentially serve as renewable energy sites nationally. © Mark's Photo/iStock
a view of expansive field of solar panels
Across the US, TNC is working to identify legal, financial and political barriers to driving new renewable energy infrastructure to old mining lands—an approach that could give new life to communities. © American Public Power Association
man holds a hardhat, sits on a pile of reclaimed bricks
Coal mines once employed hundreds of thousands of people in the state and provided a steady source of revenue. © Annie O'Neill

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“West Virginia is known as ‘Coal Country,’ but I see us becoming ‘Climate Resilience Country’ more and more every day,” says Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison, whose organization has partnered with TNC on workforce development to support green jobs in the region.

aerial view of west virginia town along a river
Coalfield Development has helped create jobs installing solar panels on houses that, as Dennison puts it, “were built with money from the coal industry.” © Christopher Boswell/iStock

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The West Virginia native is working to diversify the local economy, putting former coal miners back to work on retired mine sites with projects ranging from reforestation, solar installation, carpentry and sustainable agriculture. This kind of local vision could have global impact: TNC estimates that previously degraded lands can support enough new clean energy infrastructure to meet the world’s emissions reduction goals 17 times over.

woman installs solar panel on a roof
Accelerating clean energy development is essential to mitigating climate change, and building new infrastructure on retired mine lands instead of relatively untouched natural lands is key. © Power of Forever Photography/iStock

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“Rebuilding an entire economy from the ground up is a daunting task, but that’s what we need in central Appalachia,” he says. “The people in our community are facing many challenges, but we don’t want you to feel sorry for us: this is a place that has a lot to offer our country, and our planet. We are an under-invested-in asset.”

reclaimed mine land with new plant growth
The U.S. EPA estimates that as many as 43 million acres of “brownfields”—lands previously developed for industrial purposes—could potentially serve as renewable energy sites nationally. © Mark's Photo/iStock

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Dennison has seen firsthand how the decline of coal has wrought “deep pain and suffering” on Appalachian communities. The region has had to contend with a devastated ecology, stark unemployment, and a deadly rise in substance abuse.

a view of expansive field of solar panels
Across the US, TNC is working to identify legal, financial and political barriers to driving new renewable energy infrastructure to old mining lands—an approach that could give new life to communities. © American Public Power Association

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“Despite the sense of loss our communities feel, a transformational vision for a new economic reality is taking root,” he says. “Our coal and gas and timber has been tapped, but the courage and creativity of our people has not. The country and the world need us to succeed.”

rock jetty stretching out in blue ocean water with soft clouds above
SOUTHEASTERN COAST The Caribbean is more dependent on tourism than any other region in the world—its coastal habitats support roughly half of all livelihoods. © Paul Selvaggio
palm trees on a sandy beach with blue water
More than 2.5 million square (ALL RIGHTS, ALL USES) The beach at Parque Nacional del Este. The park is one of the Caribbean's largest marine parks located on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The Conservancy and its partners are working to unite a coalition of representatives from the private and public sectors to guide conservation planning and management at the government-owned park. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Godfrey © The Nature Conservancy © © Mark Godfrey/TNC
a woman shines a UV light into a fish tank in a lab
About half of Caribbean jobs rely on healthy marine habitats, including the vital network of coral reefs. Here, Reyes observes a coral recruit fertilized in the lab. © Paul Selvaggio
a scuba diver repairs a piece of coral underwater
According to TNC study, reefs help generate an estimated $5.7 billion in economic value to the tourism industry and draw nearly 7.4 million visitors to the Caribbean annually. © Paul A. Selvaggio
a portrait of a smiling woman on a beach
You can’t protect what you can’t see: FUNDEMAR and TNC have worked together to collect data to inform local conservation efforts. © Courtesy of Rita Sellares
plane propellor spins with view of island in background
TNC and partners combined data from fly-over missions of key geographies, high-resolution satellite images, drones and divers to create one-of-a-kind underwater maps. © Marjo Aho
two scuba divers carry a basket of coral pieces
The new high-resolution maps helped divers locate the best places to plant coral off the coast of Bayahibe in 2019. © Paul A. Selvaggio
palm trees on a sandy beach with blue water
More than 2.5 million square (ALL RIGHTS, ALL USES) The beach at Parque Nacional del Este. The park is one of the Caribbean's largest marine parks located on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The Conservancy and its partners are working to unite a coalition of representatives from the private and public sectors to guide conservation planning and management at the government-owned park. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Godfrey © The Nature Conservancy © © Mark Godfrey/TNC

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The southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic boasts all the natural amenities that lure tourists to the Caribbean—pillowy beaches, world-class diving, a reliably fresh catch-of-the-day. For Yulissa Reyes, this is home.

a woman shines a UV light into a fish tank in a lab
About half of Caribbean jobs rely on healthy marine habitats, including the vital network of coral reefs. Here, Reyes observes a coral recruit fertilized in the lab. © Paul Selvaggio

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“Bayahibe is the town where I was born, so from a very young age I’ve been close to the sea and always felt the duty to conserve it,” Reyes says. “My family and I used to go to the coast to look for shellfish, but now you don’t see as many. I’m worried the generation after me may not get to know these species.”

a scuba diver repairs a piece of coral underwater
According to TNC study, reefs help generate an estimated $5.7 billion in economic value to the tourism industry and draw nearly 7.4 million visitors to the Caribbean annually. © Paul A. Selvaggio

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As a youth conservationist, Reyes found support in the Fundación Dominicana de Estudios Marinos (FUNDEMAR). In 2013, the organization began cultivating coral to restore the region’s reefs, with strong support from the hotels and diving centers along the coast.

a portrait of a smiling woman on a beach
You can’t protect what you can’t see: FUNDEMAR and TNC have worked together to collect data to inform local conservation efforts. © Courtesy of Rita Sellares

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“Everybody in the Dominican Republic depends on the tourism sector or fisheries,” says Rita Sellares, executive director of FUNDEMAR. “If we lose the coral reefs, we lose the economy of the whole country.”

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TNC and partners combined data from fly-over missions of key geographies, high-resolution satellite images, drones and divers to create one-of-a-kind underwater maps. © Marjo Aho

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Today, the team manages seven coral nurseries in the area, which nurture 3,000 meters of coral. And now, to facilitate these and other restoration efforts, TNC and partners have created the first-ever high resolution maps of the entire Caribbean reef system, which promise to guide reef protection with science-backed precision—and change the way we see the ocean.

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The new high-resolution maps helped divers locate the best places to plant coral off the coast of Bayahibe in 2019. © Paul A. Selvaggio

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“When you start working on corals, you have to love them, because of all the things they show you,” Sellares says. “At FUNDEMAR, we always say you have to learn about things to love them, and then you’re also able to protect them.”

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Hunan, China China established its first national park, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, in 1982 to encourage protection and sustainable national development. © Lkunl/iStock
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In 2017, TNC planted 50 acres of forest habitat to help protect the Yunnan Golden Monkey, one of the world’s most endangered primates. © Long Yongcheng/TNC
mountainous view with reforested area in foreground
The Ant Forest, China’s largest private sector tree-planting initiative, allows consumers to transform sustainable individual behaviors into “green energy” points for conservation at scale. © Liang Shen
large rocks in a river surrounded by greenery
The Old Creek River navigates its way along steep, densely forested valleys in Sichuan Province’s Laohegou Nature Reserve. © Nick Hall
view of dense city in foreground with mountains behind
Here in Kunming, nations must work to address nature’s urgent call for action and connect restoration to climate health. © Good Life Studio/iStock
two yunnan golden monkeys in greenery
In 2017, TNC planted 50 acres of forest habitat to help protect the Yunnan Golden Monkey, one of the world’s most endangered primates. © Long Yongcheng/TNC

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China is home to 18 percent of the global population, 7 of the 10 largest cities and 10 percent of Earth’s remaining wildlife species—what’s more, the country is a key investor in infrastructure abroad. With a growing influence, the country is sure to have an outsize impact on the world’s future sustainability trajectory.

mountainous view with reforested area in foreground
The Ant Forest, China’s largest private sector tree-planting initiative, allows consumers to transform sustainable individual behaviors into “green energy” points for conservation at scale. © Liang Shen

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China’s efforts to address sustainability and development can be seen by its recent commitment to hit peak emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060. The proposal promises to deploy nature-based solutions for climate change that will not only help China meet its Paris Climate Agreement targets, but also ensure a more secure future for a broad range of wetlands, forests, farmland and urban greenspace.

large rocks in a river surrounded by greenery
The Old Creek River navigates its way along steep, densely forested valleys in Sichuan Province’s Laohegou Nature Reserve. © Nick Hall

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Perhaps the biggest sign of China’s aspirations as an environmental leader is its role as host country of the UN’s 15th Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Representatives from 196 countries are aiming to gather in the city of Kunming in 2021 to agree on a new global framework to protect nature.

view of dense city in foreground with mountains behind
Here in Kunming, nations must work to address nature’s urgent call for action and connect restoration to climate health. © Good Life Studio/iStock

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This represents a long delay, of course, with the original gathering scheduled for October of 2020. It’s one of several major summits delayed in 2020, from the UN climate convention to a first-ever treaty to protect the high seas. While there’s no doubt some progress and momentum have been lost, the previous stories show ambitious action is still possible. We owe it ourselves and this beautiful blue and green planet to make the framework in Kunming a transformational one, ensuring that people and nature thrive—together.

People around the world are adding their voice to call for urgent action. Sign the Voice for the Planet pledge:

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Join the Conversation:

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