Where is the nature in the Presidential Candidates solutions to climate change?

By Tolu Olorode, Manager of Data & Impact

There are many hot button issues for the 2020 United States Presidential election, and climate change is getting more and more attention. A recent Pew Research survey has shown most Americans said dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress, rivaling economic and job concerns for the first time.

Openlands advocates for Nature Based Solutions (NBS) (also referred to as natural climate solutions). In the simplest terms, NBS utilize the natural environment to mitigate climate change impacts. Think planting native trees and plants in your backyard instead of putting in a cement patio to mitigate flooding in your neighborhood, protecting and acquiring natural landscapes that support diverse habitats, or passing legislation that protects bird migration patterns – these are all NBS policies, micro and macro, that support the ecosystems that naturally exist.

So why focus on nature to help solve our climate problems? Frankly, it presents us with one of the most common-sense solutions: working with nature will help heal the harm humans have done, in comparison to using new technology to solve the damage caused by older technology. Estimates show that using cost-effective NBS can provide 33% of climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 to stabilize global warming to below 2 °C, climate change’s magic number.

With many primaries coming up soon, we wanted to take a deeper dive into each candidate’s climate policy to determine how their nature-based solutions stack up, if they mentioned any at all. 

Before we jump right in, a couple things to note. This list includes running candidates and public plans and policies as of February 20, 2020, and all the that had policy plans had the following components, which we refer to as “The Green Three”:

  • Energy impacts and creating jobs
  • Re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Some sort of “punishment” to large industry polluters  

Republican Candidates

Donald J. Trump: No Policy or Plan.   

Bill Weld:  Climate Policy

Although the plan is not very detailed, Weld pledges to address “The Green Three”. There are no specific references or plans to address nature or natural climate solutions.

Democratic Candidates

Joe Biden: Joe’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice

The plan is very robust and chiefly concerned with “The Green Three”. There are no specific references or plans to address nature or natural climate solutions.

Mike Bloomberg:  Fighting for a Bright, Sustainable Future

Although hitting on the “The Green Three” quite hard, the plan takes an imprecise position on federal and local level nature related ideas. In discussing climate change resilience, the plan pledges various federal agencies will work with local communities to develop resilience strategies for natural areas and working lands, aimed to maximize protection against climate hazards and protect communities. It doesn’t determine whether these resilience strategies will be nature based. Bloomberg’s plan also aims to create block grants to help states and cities acquire and otherwise protect floodplains, wetlands, coastal salt marshes and other natural areas that are critical to protecting communities from extreme weather.

Pete Buttigieg: Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

This plan reflects the Green New Deal (see Sanders’s Plan below). However, Buttigieg specifically calls out wanting to promote conservation of forests and grasslands through voluntary conservation programs, tax incentives, and the carbon sequestration market. While this does not explicitly add to the NBS conversation, this inclusion does reiterate that nature-based approaches are possible.

Tulsi Gabbard: No Policy or Plan.

Amy Klobuchar: Senator Klobuchar’s Plan to Tackle the Climate Crisis

In addition to “The Green Three”, part of the plan gives space to the science community to conduct research and gain knowledge for new and innovative green technologies to help combat climate change. This type of approach is quite unique in comparison to the other candidates’ plans. Klobuchar, however, did not specify nature or natural climate solutions in any aspect of her plan.

Bernie Sanders: Green New Deal

The plan specifically mentions conserving public lands in addition to “The Green Three”. This idea includes reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to build green infrastructure, plant billions of trees and other native species, prevent flood and soil erosion, rebuild wetlands and coral, and eradicate invasive species and flora disease.

Tom Steyer: Justice Centered Climate Plan

Steyer’s plan is discretely focused on environmental justice and addressing climate change through this lens. Like Klobuchar, this justice centered approach is singularly distinctive in its novelty. While the plan dives deep into what justice could look like on this scale, there is no mention of natural climate solutions throughout the plan.  

Elizabeth Warren:  Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

Warren’s platform includes 13 different climate plans that address separate climate related issues. Although one plan was specifically focused on “Protecting Public Lands” (related to land management and access), there are no specific references or plans to address nature or natural climate solutions.

Honorable mentions:

Even though Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet both dropped out of the race in early February, Yang was the only candidate that had a plan to measure the success of the implementation and sustainability of his climate change mitigation effort, and Bennet was the only candidate to who’s plan mentions agriculture-based conservation to mitigate climate change impacts.   

From Resolution to Action: 4 nature-based policy recommendations for Chicago’s climate resilience

By Ted Haffner, Openlands Climate Fellow

On January 15, Aldermen Matt Martin (47) and George Cardenas (12) along with 44 other Aldermen introduced a Resolution calling for the City of Chicago to declare a Climate Emergency. This resolution was a positive step, offering the most comprehensive proposal to initiate an emergency mobilization effort against climate change and its impacts. The resolution also goes the furthest in addressing environmental justice, saying that there must be “widespread conservation and restoration of ecosystems,” and that “justice requires that frontline and marginalized communities, which have historically borne the brunt of the extractive fossil-fuel economy, participate actively in the planning and implementation of this mobilization effort and that they benefit first from the transition to a climate-safe economy.”

It is now vital that we follow this step with action. The Mayor and City Council have numerous proposals before them that offer excellent opportunities to create real impact towards climate resilience. Here are just a few proposals that would bring the city a step closer to a climate-safe economy:

  • Create an Urban Forestry Advisory Board to assist the Bureau of Forestry and more adequately care for public trees and the climate benefits they provide. A study released just last week found that the historical practice of redlining has created neighborhoods with lower tree canopy cover than those wealthier non-redlined neighborhoods. A healthy urban forest is one of the most cost-effective measures to mitigate climate impacts, providing flood prevention through rainwater interception, lower temperatures via shade, improved air quality, and mental health benefits. An oversight board such as this that recommends meaningful policies is needed now more than ever.
  • Introduce legislation that promotes urban farming at a community scale. According to the resolution, regenerative agriculture is of a high priority. But Chicago is currently considering legislation that disincentivizes and restricts meaningful urban agriculture practices and businesses. It is vital for the City to support policies that might promote urban farming at a community scale, especially when that urban agriculture provides a necessary source of healthy food options for many in some of the biggest food deserts in our city. 
  • Pass habitat-friendly ordinances that support our natural ecosystems. As the most dangerous city for migratory birds, passing the Bird Friendly Design Ordinance to create a friendlier place for birds of all types, whether migrating through or staying put, will create huge impact.  And ensuring the dismissal of other proposals that seek to destroy migratory birds’ most valuable wildlife habitats, at places like Montrose Beach and South Shore Nature Sanctuary, are integral actions consistent with ending the “Sixth Mass Extinction,” as the resolution resolves to do.
  • Allow conservation at homes throughout the city. Finally, planting and maintaining native plants and pollinator gardens can be a powerful way for residents to personally act on climate change and mitigate flooding in their neighborhoods. Native prairie capture as much or more carbon than trees do, and with their extensive root systems, soak up water during rain events. Introducing a Chicago Weeds Ordinance that removes rules that disproportionately penalized property owners who plant and maintain native plant and pollinator gardens is essential.

Recycling, Air Pollution, Environmental Inspections, Transportation, the list is endless, and can seem daunting, but with the outlined solutions above, Chicago can take much needed steps towards addressing how our region will be affected by climate change. And it will be affected – in a recent event, author Dan Egan spoke about how vulnerable Chicago is to the impacts of climate change.

The resolution is only the beginning of what we hope is a new day in Chicago for climate policy, we all need to work together to ensure this powerful resolution doesn’t amount to just words. Chicagoans need action and action needs advocates.

Please join us in advocating for these and other issues by talking to your local officials, and adding your voice to our advocacy efforts to ensure a green, more climate resilient region for us all.