The Power of Nature at COP27
By Heather Tallis, Assistant Director for Biodiversity and Conservation Sciences
Jane Lubchenco, Deputy Director for Climate and the Environment
Have you ever run down a towering dune during a beach weekend? You might head home with some great memories and sand between your toes. But those dunes do much more than build fond memories. When the next coastal storm rolls in, they will act as speed bumps for storm surge, slowing and dampening incoming waves and reducing damage onshore. Have you walked along a farm field and watched a butterfly skimming the sea of green? Beyond that moment of beauty, nature’s pollinators add food to tables and profits to crops. Yes, nature seeds our lives with splendor and awe, but constantly – often quietly – does so much more.
Global leaders meet this week at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties (COP27), and next month at the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) because humanity is fighting for our future against climate change and nature loss. And a third crisis – an inequitable world – amplifies the urgency. There should be no doubt that we need to act aggressively to deploy all possible solutions for these three interconnected challenges.
The good news is that we actually have a largely untapped, but nonetheless powerful, set of solutions at hand: nature. Deep knowledge, science, and experience have yielded a wide variety of nature-based solutions. These solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, or restore natural or modified ecosystems to address societal challenges. It is high time for nature-based solutions to be used and scaled as critical tools in the fight against climate change, nature loss and inequity.
Historic investments within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act provide a major push toward progress via more than $42 billion in funding to support nature-based solutions. On farms, in forests, along coasts and in transportation systems, these investments will reduce the risk of fires, floods, heat waves, and storms, and strengthen communities. But this is just a start.
Significant challenges to deploying and scaling up nature-based solutions remain. Many people think of nature on weekends or vacations, or not at all. For many, sandy toes and lilting butterflies seem far removed from the realities of flooded homes, eroding coasts and dying crops – but they are not. Communities nationwide need easy ways to learn about what is possible with nature-based solutions. And even when people are aware of what nature offers, and are ready to work with nature to build resilience, current policies and regulations can create unintended hurdles. Many communities find funds for nature-based solutions insufficient and difficult to navigate. When funds do flow, the workforce to design and build nature-based solutions lags in some places, or simply doesn’t exist in others. Technical challenges can make investors hesitate or delay permitting. Effective use of nature-based solutions will require removing these roadblocks.
Which is why today, the United States is announcing bold steps in our report, “Opportunities to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions: A Roadmap for Climate Progress, Thriving Nature, Equity and Prosperity.” Launched at COP27, this report marks the first all-of-government look the U.S. has taken at what is needed for nature-based solutions to become go-to options in the fight against climate change, nature loss and inequity.
We are also releasing a companion resource document, the “Nature-Based Solutions Resource Guide: Compendium of Federal Examples, Guidance, Resource Documents, Tools and Technical Assistance.” The resource guide shares 30 Federal examples of nature-based solutions and over 150 resources aimed at those who are ready to take action.
And to complete the trio, the Administration is announcing a number of aligned actions that Federal agencies are taking to scale up nature-based solutions. These three documents signal serious commitment to meet communities where they are to avoid the worst ravages of climate change and to adapt to changes already underway.
The Roadmap articulates five strategic recommendations for U.S. Federal agencies and partners to unlock the full potential of nature-based solutions:
Update policies: The Roadmap recommends updates to permitting, cost-share requirements, benefit cost analysis guidance and planning policies. Agencies are called on to update their policies and guidance to embrace more comprehensive benefit cost methods and remove other unintended barriers to scaling up nature-based solutions.
Unlock funding: Federal agencies can advance nature-based solutions by providing funding and incentives. The Roadmap identifies key opportunities through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act investments to support resilient housing, roads, and communities. Opportunities are also identified to catalyze investments inside and outside of government, and to simplify access to existing Federal funds by increasing coordination and streamlining application processes. Focusing these efforts on historically underserved communities can improve equity and ensure the communities at greatest risk can access these funds.
Lead with Federal facilities and assets: The Roadmap recommends that agencies expand nature-based solutions in all Federal facilities – through green stormwater infrastructure, green roofs, living shorelines, and other approaches. The Roadmap calls on agencies with large land holdings to include nature-based solutions in their planning and management, and where appropriate, engage in co-stewardship and co-management with Tribal Nations to build resilience.
Train the workforce: Implementing nature-based solutions requires a workforce skilled in relevant aspects of community planning, law, finance, ecology, design, engineering and maintenance. The Roadmap calls on agencies to use existing and new programs to help develop these skills, for example, through partnerships with labor, academic, and professional organizations. The seeds of the future workforce also need to be planted by introducing nature-based solution concepts through science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education.
Prioritize research, innovation, knowledge, and adaptive learning: As the world changes,we must innovate andfill gaps in our understanding of nature-based solutions and when to use them. We need all sources of knowledge for continual learning, and the Roadmap calls on agencies to synthesize existing evidence of effectiveness, close evidence gaps, and work alongside and learn from Indigenous Knowledge holders to enhance or restore nature. There are major opportunities to translate what we already know into best practices for designing and monitoring nature-based solutions, including how best to measure and verify climate benefits.
Scientists have calculated that nature-based solutions could provide up to 30% of the emissions reductions we need. These solutions are also essential for effective adaptation. Now is the time to make a quantum leap in use of nature-based solutions. As we take these messages to big international meetings, as we move aggressively ahead on the home front, we invite everyone to join us to prioritize nature-based solutions as go-to options in fighting climate change, nature loss and inequities. The evidence is clear: look to nature to create the future we want.