Nature-based climate solutions are crucial

Trees, farms, wetlands, marshlands could play huge role

This commentary is written as a letter to Gov.-elect Maura Healey.

WE JOIN THE CHORUS of leaders across the Commonwealth in congratulating you on your historic election victory. As you prepare to take office, we are thrilled by your administration’s ambitious plans to fight climate change and protect nature. We applaud your focus on climate justice and supporting those communities whose residents have suffered severe health impacts from our legacy fossil fuel system, and who are rendered vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We need climate leadership that puts people and the needs of those communities first.  

Our three organizations, our collective membership of 352,000, and our community-based partners are committed to assisting your administration in achieving your ambitious plans to establish Massachusetts as a global leader in implementing climate solutions. Indeed, enterprising laws and robust plans are now in place for clean energy and climate action, and the opportunity to tap into historic levels of federal funding can propel the implementation of these plans. This is a special moment in time, and we are counting on your bold leadership to take advantage of it.     

We support your climate plan for recognizing nature’s critical role in climate mitigation. Massachusetts’ trees, farms, wetlands, and marshes currently absorb 7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and have the potential to do much more, at the lowest cost possible for removing carbon from the atmosphere. The pandemic reminds us how essential nature is to improving human health by reducing asthma and heart disease and boosting our mental health. Massachusetts cannot reach net zero by 2050 without maximizing nature-based climate solutions, which also help reduce flooding and confront extreme heat, particularly in our most under-resourced communities.   

The public overwhelmingly supports nature and nature-based climate solutions and will be fully behind your goals. In a recent compelling survey, nearly 70 percent of Massachusetts respondents believe more must be done to protect air and water quality, wildlife, and endangered species; provide all communities access to outdoor recreation; and use nature to reduce climate risks.   

Bold action and new investment are needed to strengthen initial progress on nature-based climate solutions. The single most important thing we can do is to conserve the more than 1 million acres of priority forest land that is without legal protection and at risk of development. We also must manage both public and privately-owned forests through a mix of forest reserves and managed forests, including sustainable timber harvesting. This balanced approach is needed to meet state and landowner climate, biodiversity, and economic goals. 

Reaching the state’s net zero emissions goals by 2050 requires decarbonizing our energy supply as soon as possible. We fully support your plan to increase renewable energy development, including solar deployment on rooftops, parking lot canopies, brownfields, landfills, and unused commercial sites, while avoiding and minimizing the conversion of carbon-rich forests, farms, and natural lands, which provide scores of other environmental and social benefits.    

As you rise to govern, we pledge to step up our own efforts as partners with you and your team in this critical work. In this naturally beautiful and priceless state of forests, shorelines, cranberry bogs, wetlands, farms, fields, and more, we must all work together to preserve and protect it. The payoff is priceless.   

Deb Markowitz is Massachusetts director of The Nature Conservancy, David O’Neill is president of Mass Audubon, and Nicie Panetta is interim president and CEO of The Trustees of Reservations.