Protecting High-Carbon Areas in the United States: Opportunities, Policy Mechanisms, and Communications Strategies
Various ecosystems throughout the world, including many areas across the United States, contain large stores of carbon—either in plant matter, roots, or held within the soil—that, if disturbed through land-use change, will not reaccumulate, or “recover,” in a reasonable human timescale. If released into the atmosphere, the “irrecoverable carbon” (IRC) held in these ecosystems, which span mangroves, temperate forests, grasslands, and other biomes, has the potential to accelerate climate change and create additional barriers to the IPCC’s stated goal of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5ºC above pre-Industrial levels.
Our team worked with The Wilderness Society (TWS) to identify and develop approaches to advocate for the increased protection and management of these high-carbon areas (HCAs) in the U.S. The questions we addressed have implications beyond land conservation. At this vital juncture, where urgent action is needed to meet (or further develop) the U.S.’s climate change resilience and mitigation goals, understanding both policy and communication mechanisms to motivate action and protect against carbon release from these HCAs is essential.
Our research included a comprehensive literature review, almost 40 interviews with experts in the field, policy analysis, and extensive GIS work to map IRC across ecosystems, land protection status, and land management and ownership. Over the course of our project, we developed a series of case studies identifying threats to IRC and opportunities for protection, regional policy recommendations, and communications tools to increase support for protection of high-carbon landscapes to be used by both individuals and organizations in the land conservation field.
Alexander O'Keefe MS (EPP/ESM); Anna-Sophie Hoppe, MS/MPP (EPP); Francesca Governali, MS/MBA (EPP); Joel Weltzien, MS (EPP); Joe Pitti, MS (EPP/GDS); Mackenzie Meter, MS (BEC/EPP); Meg Taylor, MS (EPP); Meredith Seibold, MS (EPP); Sophie Daudon, MS/MPP (BEC/ESM)