Co-authored with Jessica Brennan
“The Inflation Reduction Act includes an acknowledgment that land is a profound ally in the fight against climate change” states environmental reporter Brady Dennis in his recent article in the Washington Post. Planning and implementing nature-based solutions to combat the climate crisis is core to the work we’re doing at Greenbelt Alliance.
While reducing health costs and raising taxes on corporations and wealthy investors has made many headlines, the nearly $370 billion reserved for climate and clean energy-related funding in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will enable more climate resilience initiatives like the work Greenbelt Alliance is advancing throughout the Bay Area.
Leveraging Lands to Sequester Carbon
The way in which we use and steward our lands is critical to reducing the toxic greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. Billions of tons of carbon can be pulled from the atmosphere annually by healthy forests, restored wetlands, undisturbed prairies, and better-managed agricultural lands—making land conservation the most effective current solution to cleaning the atmosphere.
The $20 billion set aside for agricultural conservation and $5 billion to safeguard forests will incentivize landowners to follow sustainable farming and land management practices. In doing so, places like the Bay Area’s natural grasslands, wetlands, and forests can be restored and thus relied upon to fight climate change.
This investment has the potential to positively impact the region’s critical agricultural economy. As the federal government is prioritizing the climate benefits these lands provide, local farms and ranches have even more reason to be protected from the threat of permanent loss and conversion that come from sprawl development.
Building Resilience to Wildfires
The IRA allocates $2 billion for wildfire risk reduction. This includes funds for leveraging nature-based solutions to this severe climate hazard. In the Bay Area, and especially when considering high fire risk areas like Sonoma County, this funding can make a real impact. For example, our recent research, The Critical Role of Greenbelts in Wildfire Resilience, found that there are four types of greenbelt lands that can be used as natural solutions to build wildfire resilience. With the proper funding in place to permanently protect and steward nature-based solutions like these greenbelts, we can significantly reduce the loss of lives and homes to wildfire and build community resilience.
Improving Drought Resistance
There is $4 billion included in the Inflation Reduction Act to fund drought resilience in the West. As we see the impacts of three consecutive summers of drought, this funding comes at a critical time to support investments that assist in water conservation programs as well as reducing water consumption. Where and how we build makes a significant impact on our water resources here in the Bay Area. By allowing sprawling developments onto open space lands, we deplete our groundwater supply, straining a resource that’s vital in the face of the prolonged drought conditions we’re going to face as our planet continues to warm. Instead, investing in open space conservation—like this example of protecting Coyote Valley—can measurably protect and enhance groundwater supplies for nearby residents.
Preparing our coastal communities to withstand extreme weather events and sea-level rise is critical. The San Francisco Bay Area is positioned to experience severe impacts as seas rise if no action is taken. The IRA is dedicating $2.6 billion dollars to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support coastal protection and restoration. With 90% of the Bay’s original wetlands lost, funding like this can greatly benefit communities and Tribes in efforts to restore beach dunes, wetlands, and other coastal ecosystem nature-based solutions.
Investing in Equitable, Sustainable Communities
The IRA is dedicating $60 billion to environmental justice initiatives, and of this funding, $1 billion is being used for a grant program that will invest in energy-efficient affordable housing. Given our strong belief that housing policy is climate policy, and that communities must be prepared for climate change in future developments, we are encouraged by this investment and how it can support the Bay Area to grow more equitably and in a climate-friendly manner.
Inequitable and unsustainable growth practices have thrived throughout the region, leading to a devastating increase in housing insecurity and homelessness. This pattern has ultimately exposed vulnerable populations to harsh climate impacts including wildfires, floods, heatwaves, drought, and the list goes on. The IRA’s package of climate and energy-related funding can pave the way for more climate-resilient communities. In addition to energy efficiency measures incorporated into future affordable housing developments, where those developments are built can make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Greenbelt Alliance advocates for future housing across the income spectrum that is built in already established, climate-safe urban areas—ultimately reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions that result from sprawling housing developments that are further away from jobs and services.
The Inflation Reduction Act catapults significant funding needed to launch new programs, actions, and tangible investments in communities by leveraging nature-based solutions. An immediate next step is for local jurisdictions to plan how to transform our existing systems and practices. Greenbelt Alliance is committed to partnering with communities around the Bay Area, guided by applying resources like our Resilience Playbook, to use natural and working lands as defense mechanisms to absorb floodwaters, sequester carbon, protect water supply, and provide buffers to wildfires in tandem with critically addressing housing justice. Climate change is an opportunity to reimagine our relationship with the natural world and with each other. With more funding now available, and a signal of the importance of this work, let’s forge ahead on creative and transformative efforts.
Photo: Mick Haupt via Unsplash