The world has encountered few threats as severe as climate change, and it will take a concerted global effort to change our current dangerous course. But the 2015 Paris Agreement has put the world on a new path. While there have setbacks, the last three years have seen significant progress on climate action—and not just at the national level, but on the ground, where thousands of organizations, businesses and communities are carrying the world forward on this path.
As we approach the Global Climate Action Summit, we’re seeing even more leadership from these sub-national actors who realize climate action can actually be an opportunity for investment and growth. States and regions are taking the lead on clean energy, cities are finding innovative ways to adapt to rising seas, and businesses are realizing big opportunities by investing in nature itself to reduce emissions.
There’s no doubt we’re at a critical moment for the future of our planet. But we’re given hope by the leaders at every level and in every sector who are helping their communities adapt to the changing climate even as they work to mitigate further temperature increases. Below, we share eight remarkable stories of the global progress on tackling climate change.
Insuring Reefs Ensures the Safety of Coastal Communities in Mexico
Coral reefs are incredible natural buffers from coastal storms—a healthy reef can absorb up to 97 percent of a wave’s force. But reefs themselves can be damaged by severe storms, putting nearby communities at greater risk. In Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo, the state government, hotel owners, The Nature Conservancy and the local science community are piloting an innovative strategy to confront this threat. The Coastal Zone Management Trust uses taxes collected from the local business community to finance ongoing maintenance of reefs and beaches—and to purchase a first-of-its-kind insurance policy to ensure these vital ecosystems are restored after extreme storms hit.
"Too often leaders believe protecting nature … is at the expense of the economy or human well-being. I couldn’t disagree more strongly. We’ve made great progress quantifying what you can achieve by investing in nature."
States Take on the Mantle of Climate Leadership in the U.S.
While the fate of the United States in the Paris Agreement remains
uncertain, California lawmakers voted to extend the state’s cap-and-trade
program, which sets an annual limit on greenhouse gas emissions that declines
over time and requires companies to purchase or trade “allowances” for each ton
of emissions. Meanwhile, in Iowa and other states where agriculture is a major
source of emissions, TNC is working with farmers to implement soil health
practices that both increase their yields and reduce their carbon footprints.
And in New Hampshire, a clean energy fund is enabling investments that not only
cut emissions but also reduce energy costs and create new jobs.
"We live in a system, and everybody has an impact on that. As a farmer, it's important for me to be aware of that and do the things I can do."
Forests are some of the most important carbon sinks on the planet—but many countries also rely on their forests as a source of economic development. This doesn’t have to be a conflict, though—in fact, preserving and restoring forests is a growing business opportunity. Improving the management of working forests is a key strategy a new Green Growth Compact in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan Province. A partnership between 25 companies, government agencies, communities and nonprofit groups, the compact focuses on improving the management of 2.4 million acres of forest. The plan aims to both stimulate the local economy and also reduce forest-based carbon emissions by nearly 3 million tons each year—the equivalent of removing 600 million cars from the roads.
"East Kalimantan is gearing up to be a leading example of what integrated action across all sectors of the economy can do."
Justin Adams, Managing Director for Global Lands, The Nature Conservancy
Mapping and Enhancing Natural Defenses on the Frontlines in The Caribbean
Small island nations like those in the Caribbean are on the front lines of climate change, threatened by more frequent and intense storms, flooding and degradation of the coral reefs that once mitigated the impact of storms. To protect these important reefs, a cross-sector group of partners is working to map the Caribbean’s coral reefs, combining layers of date from satellites, drones, aircraft and SCUBA divers to providing a first-of-its-kind assessment of reef health. That new data will allow for better management and decision making, such as identifying where reefs need to be supplemented by built infrastructure, as is being done in Grenville, Grenada. The local government, community members and a range of partners are working together to test an artificial reef design that emulates natural reefs. Not only will these reef installations improve storm resilience, they also attract some of the species local fishermen depend on for their livelihoods.
"Most of the people in this area rely on the sea … the protecting of the reef is so very important for sustaining their livelihoods."
Supplying Water and Storing Carbon in Brazil’s Watersheds
The challenges of water security and carbon emissions have a common solution: trees. Restoring and protecting forests in watersheds helps to reduce sediment pollution, improve water filtration and sequester carbon. In Brazil, for example, water funds in the cities of Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo offer a mechanism to engage actors in both the public and private sectors to invest in the restoration and protection of the Guandu and Cantareira watersheds. The result is both cleaner, more reliable water supplies for the cities and less carbon in the atmosphere.
"When the forest is grown I’ll trap about 600 tons of carbon …. Imagine if all the large landowners in this country did a little bit of what I’m doing."
Carlos Alberto Marques, retired farmer and watershed reforestation participant, Guandu, Brazil
Where do you go when there is no higher land than the sea’s edge? Climate change is fundamentally altering reality for residents of low-lying, vulnerable islands in Micronesia and Melanesia. The burdens caused by rising seas and diminishing freshwater supplies do not fall equitably, either—so often women bear the responsibility for keeping their families fed and safe under these challenging circumstances. But women in the Pacific are helping to lead efforts to adapt. A first-of-its kind convening in March brought together women leaders from seven island nations to share their stories and discuss their strategies for adaptation.
"To be frank, our world will probably tip over if we do not value women’s views. I would like to believe that the lawmakers of our country—who are mostly men—will cherish the voices of women."
Emeliana Musrasrik-Carl from Pohnpei, Migrant Resource Center, Micronesia Coordinator
Pastoral Communities Adapt to a New Business Climate in Kenya
On the grasslands of northern Kenya, the annual rains have followed a predicable rhythm for millennia. But disruptions to that rhythm, brought on by climate change, are threatening both wildlife and pastoralist communities as worsening cycles of drought create greater competition for grass. One way local community conservancies are addressing this issue is by managing grasslands to maintain wildlife habitat while also enabling sustainable livestock grazing. The Northern Rangelands Trust then purchases cattle from conservancies that have implemented rigorous sustainable grazing plans, with the help of impact investment funds raised by TNC’s NatureVest unit. This model gives herders access to more lucrative mobile markets and directs some of the income back to the community conservancies. These healthier, better-managed grasslands also sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.
"The cattle are there. The numbers are there. The market is there. It’s really just about scaling it up."
Tom Lalampaa, Chief Program Officer, Northern Rangelands Trust
Indigenous Communities Light a Fire on Climate Change in Australia
Indigenous groups in Australia are mitigating carbon emissions from their land by setting fire to it. Drawing on over 10,000 years of traditional fire management knowledge, indigenous rangers deploy a program of prescribed burning early in the dry season to pre-empt larger, more intense wildfires late in the season, which would result in considerably more greenhouse gas emissions, as well as threats to human safety and the unique wildlife of northern Australia. Sale of carbon credits generated from this work also provides sustainable income for indigenous communities and funds further conservation work in Australia.
"We say that the Aboriginal people are the first conservationists."
Nolan Hunter, Chief Executive Officer of the Kimberly Land Council
How we manage soil will impact the amount and quality of food we produce, whether we exacerbate or mitigate climate change, and the health of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on which all life depends.