Momentum is building on Capitol Hill for addressing a crucial piece of the climate change puzzle — ecosystem-based adaptation.

Why is helping nature adapt to climate change important? Because natural systems serve as the backbone of public health and the nation’s economy — everything from providing clean water and air and protecting communities from catastrophic weather-related disasters to sustaining our outdoor recreation and agricultural industries (which combined represent more than $1 trillion annually).

So in order to fully address the effects of climate change, we must help communities and natural systems become more resilient to the changes we are already seeing. We must also prepare people and nature for the changes we know will come.

Known as adaptation, this combination of management, restoration and protection strategies will help prepare places, plants, animals — and people — for climate change.

Yesterday was a good day for this vitally important piece of the climate change puzzle. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the “Natural Resources Climate Adaptation Act.” The legislation builds upon an earlier adaptation proposal that was included in the Senate’s version of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation introduced earlier this month.

The legislation calls for important dedicated funding for adaptation work, with approximately 5 percent of the total allowances form a climate change bill going towards job-creating conservation initiatives that safeguard wildlife and protect, restore and enhance America’s forests, grasslands, rivers, coasts, and oceans impacted by climate change.

It would also require federal, state and tribal agencies to use the best available science to develop plans and work alongside local groups and private landowners to identify and safeguard vulnerable ecosystems.

Underscoring the importance of adaptation legislation — the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of businesses and environmental organizations (including The Nature Conservancy) that is dedicated to passing climate change legislation — has provided a report to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works calling for a commitment to funding adaptation, saying it is “a critical component to climate legislation.” USCAP cites the citing the following reasons adaptation is so critical:

  • Communities already face impacts from climate change.
  • Adaptation funding is national security funding.
  • A commitment to adaptation in legislation is a critical component to reasserting U.S. leadership in international negotiations.
  • The poorest people around the world are most at risk from climate change.
  • Ecosystems and ecosystems services upon which human and natural communities depend must be protected.

With dedicated legislation for adaptation funding now working its way through committee, provisions already included in the broader climate change and energy bill, and a new report from business and environmental leaders supporting adaptation funding, real momentum appears to be developing on Capitol Hill to ensure that people, places, plants, and animals are prepared for climate change now and in the future.

(Photo: Erika Nortemann. North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is under threat from salt water inundation due to rising seal levels caused by climate change.)

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  1. It’s easy for us in the west to think that the effects of climate change on our lives are years away. But in warmer and poorer parts of the world they are already a reality. The EU has just agreed that these countries will need $148 billion a year in aid to adapt to climate change. Copenhagen will see whether they follow threw.


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