United States Raises Ambition on Forest and Climate Action

February 25, 2021

During his first month as president, Joe Biden set a new path for the United States’ approach to forest and agriculture landscapes by signing a myriad of executive orders related to conservation, agriculture, and reforestation. Among these orders include ambitious domestic land conservation targets, rollbacks on questionable environmental policies set by the Trump administration, and plans to help protect the Amazon rainforest and other critical ecosystems globally.

While Biden has not adopted the earlier proposed Green New Deal, his $2 trillion climate plan follows a similar framework on a smaller scale, focusing on targets that are attainable within his four-year term. Both plans still share common goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity, transportation and agriculture sectors while simultaneously stimulating a transition to bioeconomy and combatting environmental injustice. With climate change experts headed by two climate czars, Gina McCarthy and John Kerry—the largest climate team in the White House’s history—the Biden administration is prepared to reestablish the U.S. as a nation committed to combatting climate change.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, United States. Photographed by Jaina Pearson

At Home

Domestically, perhaps Biden’s most ambitious conservation goal is the “30 by 30” target, which aims to protect 30% of U.S. lands and coastal seas by 2030. This means setting aside an additional 440 million acres of land, making 30 by 30 the most significant conservation target set forth by a U.S. president. The Executive Order underlying the target emphasizes conservation, agriculture, and reforestation and the role they play in sequestering carbon, protecting and restoring biodiversity, and providing sustainable bioproducts and fuel. If implemented successfully, 30 by 30 will not only provide necessary safeguards against climate change, but also enhance equitable access to nature.

One pathway to achieve the 30 by 30 target is relying on Biden’s executive authority to increase the protection of federal lands through the creation of national monuments and banning of conservation-threatening activities. However, the majority of endangered species in the U.S. reside on private land. In addition, top-down rulings on land-use restrictions have the potential to reinforce unequal access to nature if they do not sufficiently bring in local voices, particularly when concerning Indigenous lands. Both Biden and his pick for head of the Department of Interior, Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Native Tribe, have emphasized the importance of collaborating across state, local and tribal governments as well as the private sector to practice more inclusive models of land conservation. The ability to reach the 30 by 30 target equitably relies largely on collaboration with non-government organizations, including community-based organizations such as land trusts.

The Land Trust Alliance, a national organization that represents 1,000 land trusts in the United States, has increasingly focused on supporting its member land trusts in exploring the ways that conservation can and should better the lives of all people. Indufor’s work supporting the Land Trust Alliance’s Common Ground Initiative is a prime example of the benefits of sharing information across a diverse group of stakeholders, elevating the voices, perspectives and needs of often underrepresented community members, before implementing changes to land management and conservation. Through a listening and learning campaign, the Alliance heard loud and clear the need for an intentional shift toward an approach to conservation that embeds community engagement and principles of diversity, equity and inclusion into every aspect of land conservation. Through collaborations across land trusts, conservation advocates and sectors that operate in parallel with conservation, the Alliance strives to achieve models of land conservation that value people and communities in conservation. Land trusts across the nation have been successful in conserving approximately 60 million acres over the past 40 years. Land trusts will be essential to meeting the 30 by 30 target, but in order to reach such an ambitious conservation goal they will need an increase in federal funding and support. This support includes protecting federal tax incentives for conservation easements, increasing mandatory funding for Farm Bill conservation programs, and creating new financial incentives for private landowners to increase the capacity of their lands to store carbon.

Karena Mahung, Senior Consultant at Indufor, co-facilitating a Common Ground workshop at the Alliance’s National Land Conservation Conference in 2019

As the United States seeks to “build back better” from the COVID-19 crisis, there are strong synergies between the 30 by 30 target and rural job creation and economic revitalization initiatives. Biden’s Executive Order calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps to create a new set of green jobs for Americans to implement 30 by 30. Biden has ordered the Secretary of Interior to work in collaboration with the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce to develop a strategy that maximizes training and job opportunities within the Civilian Climate Corps. Biden’s Rural Plan aims to revitalize rural America in part by growing the country’s bioeconomy and bio-based manufacturing.

While the Rural Plan seeks to grow the bioeconomy through the agricultural sector, working forests arguably play just as critical of a role in growing the country’s bioeconomy.  In Maine, Indufor has been working on a project to attract investments to support the state’s transition to a sustainable forest-based bioeconomy. FOR/Maine (Forest Opportunity Roadmap) is a cross-sectoral coalition working to diversify the state’s wood products businesses, attract capital investments, and develop greater economic prosperity for communities impacted by recent mill closures. Maine aims to grow its forests products industry by 40% in 2025, presenting a major opportunity to contribute to the nation’s broader climate targets. As states such as Maine embark on efforts to grow their bioeconomies, it will be vital to keep economic, environmental, and social goals in place beyond just climate to ensure truly sustainable growth.

Abroad

Biden’s plan to focus on conservation and reforestation extends to the realm of international climate commitments. Rejoining the Paris Agreement was a first step in his long list of plans to foster collaboration amongst global climate leaders to combat climate change. Building on his previous record of supporting international tropical forest conservation, Biden pledged $20 billion during his presidential campaign towards addressing forest loss in the Amazon Basin. The Amazon rainforest is essential to the health of this planet and sustains the livelihoods of tens of millions of people. A bipartisan group of former U.S. officials proposed the Amazon Protection Plan, a set of policy recommendations to help the new administration deliver its pledge. The plan revolves around four key pillars: mobilizing public and private funding for conservation, building forest-friendly policies into trade agreements, requiring companies to disclose and manage deforestation risk in their supply chains and investments, and bolstering international diplomacy around forest conservation.

The Amazon Protection Plan recommends the Biden administration commit 25% of US international climate finance toward forests and other natural climate solutions globally, particularly in the Amazon. The role of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in managing their own territories has been and will continue to be essential to forest conservation and climate goals in the Amazon and other tropical forested countries. Indufor is currently writing a paper commissioned by Rainforest Foundation Norway on the state of donor financing for Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ territorial governance in tropical forests—to help inform enhanced donor commitments and disbursements to this area going forward. There is an urgent need and opportunity for donors to improve their responsiveness to the priorities of IPLCs, and enhance funding to IPLC organizations as a proportion of overall funding for tropical forest conservation.

Going Forward

The Biden administration’s plans complement other efforts globally to conserve and restore forest landscapes as part of broader climate and sustainable development goals. Their success will hinge on proactive collaboration across sectors and national boundaries. Indufor is committed to supporting a climate-resilient and equitable future for forest landscapes and welcomes new partnerships to advance the Biden administration’s goals.

 

Indufor is a global leader in Natural Resources Management, Investment Advisory, and Strategic Industrial Development consulting. We support our customers to compete and sustainably grow in international markets. Indufor has offices in Finland, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and China. We have over 40 years of experience in more than 100 countries. Our services support our clients to make the world more sustainable and greener.

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Luke Davis

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Daphne Yin

Senior Consultant

Karena Mahung

Senior Consultant

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