Hundreds of US Communities are Making Climate Action Plans, but Few Include Forests

By Nancy Harris, Donna Lee, Thailynn Munroe and Sarah Ruiz

Hundreds of communities across the US are developing ambitious climate action plans to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but most overlook a critical piece of the puzzle: trees. Across the US, forests and trees offset 13 percent of national emissions. With improved conservation, restoration and land management, that number could jump to 21 percent. However, in a survey of more than 30 US communities conducted by ICLEI-USA last year, less than 10 percent were including forests or trees in their greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories.

One of the
reasons communities don’t include forest management in their climate action
plans is that they don’t know how to account for forests and trees in their
emissions estimates.  

That’s why ICLEI partnered with the Woods Hole Research Center and WRI on an initiative funded by Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) and Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to develop guidelines for ICLEI’s Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. These new guidelines walk US cities and counties through the process of estimating annual emissions and removals from forests and trees outside forests, including urban trees and trees growing in other areas like farms.

How do communities’ forests contribute to their overall emissions?

Forests look very different across the country, depending on
local conditions and how they are being used and managed, such as for timber
harvesting or recreation. The nuances associated with each community’s
landscape results in a unique carbon profile.

The team of authors worked with three communities that
represent a spectrum of local land cover conditions to test the new protocol:

  • Whatcom County, WA in the Pacific Northwest, is a largely rural area
    with National Forest and Park lands to the east. The county has both state- and
    private-owned “working forests” that support a forestry industry, as well as
    conservation forests to protect salmon-bearing streams and other wildlife
    habitat. The result is that the forests of Whatcom act as a large carbon sink—sequestering
    more carbon than the county emits.
  • Los Angeles County, CA has National Forests, state forests and local
    parks, as well as many trees within the city of Los Angeles at homes and
    businesses that also provide valuable carbon sequestration.
  • On the East Coast, Montgomery County, MD has many parks with mature
    forests, forested areas that protect important watersheds, and plentiful suburban
    and agricultural landscapes that include trees.

According to Douglas Weisburger, Senior Planning Specialist for Sustainability Programs in Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, before the pilot study they did not know the magnitude of carbon sequestered by the county’s forests and trees, or the emissions produced by the clearing of those trees for development. Using the protocol, the county now has new data that can inform policies and programs that help meet their GHG goals— including becoming climate neutral.

Montgomery County
hopes to use the data generated through the pilot study to explore grant
opportunities to further analyze land management impacts on their carbon
budget. This may include the impact of reducing tree cover loss during
development, accounting for the lost potential when forests and trees are
removed, supporting forest and tree planting programs and improving sustainable
agriculture and landscaping.

With the launch of this new guidance, other communities across the US will soon be able to follow suit and take accurate estimates of the climate impact of their forests and trees. More and more, US communities are setting goals to reach net-zero emissions and if these goals are to be accomplished, forests need to be part of the equation.


BANNER PHOTO: Temperate Forest. Photo by Ann Hamerfild / Flickr.

Originally appeared on WRI Insights.


The post Hundreds of US Communities are Making Climate Action Plans, but Few Include Forests appeared first on Global Forest Watch Blog.

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