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On the Path of Climate Progress

Communities around the world are leading a culture of action on climate change

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. The 2015 Paris Agreement has put the world on a new path, though, and despite recent setbacks, the last two years have seen significant progress on climate action with hundreds of organizations, businesses and communities around the world moving forward on this path.

For starters, we’ve experienced three straight years of flat carbon emissions, even as global energy demand rose, thanks in part to rapid growth in renewable energy investments. Meanwhile, new science from The Nature Conservancy and fifteen other leading institutions reveals that nature-based climate solutions can play a bigger role than previously thought in reducing emissions—as big as halting all burning of oil—and keeping the climate in safe boundaries. (Find more information about the latest climate research at the bottom of this piece.)

There’s no doubt we’re at a critical moment for the future of our planet. But leaders and institutions at every level—from national to regional to local—are helping their communities adapt to the changing climate even as they work to mitigate further temperature increases. Below, we share just a few stories of the global progress on tackling climate change.

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Indigenous Communities Light a Fire on Climate Change in Australia

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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

Building Natural Defenses on the Frontlines in Grenada

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Like many other small island nations, Grenada is on the front lines of climate change, threatened by more frequent and intense storms, flooding and degraded coral reefs. But when reefs are healthy, they can substantially mitigate some of these threats, especially when combined with built infrastructure. 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 lobster, conch, octopus and other species that 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."
- Emmalin Pierre, Governor of Grenada

Supplying Water and Storing Carbon in Brazil’s Watersheds

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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 collect fees from downstream water users to compensate upstream farmers and ranchers for reforesting their lands and leaving existing forests standing in 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

Pastoral Communities Adapt to a New Business Climate in Kenya

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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

Seizing the Green Growth Opportunity in Indonesia and Mexico

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Tropical forests are some of the most important carbon sinks on the planet, but the need for economic development and increasing demand for commodities like beef, timber and palm oil are putting pressure on these ecosystems. New Green Growth Compacts in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan Province and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico—a joint pact between the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo—show a way for communities to achieve economic growth while also preserving these vital forests. These compacts lay out models for sustainable growth in their respective regions while minimizing forest impacts, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and empowering local communities.

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Infographic: Yucatan Green Growth

Explore the following infographic on Maya farms.

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Read more about the Green Growth Compacts in Indonesia and Mexico.


Women Embody Community Resilience in the Pacific

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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

States Take on the Mantle of Climate Leadership in the U.S.

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Although the primary focus of the Paris Agreement is national climate plans, there’s also exciting momentum at the subnational level. 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 North Carolina, we’re pioneering peat restoration practices that allow landowners to sell carbon credits and maintain vital wetland habitat. 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.

For media inquiries about our global climate work, contact media@tnc.org.

Further Reading

Special Feature: Natural Climate Solutions

Explore the science of natural science solutions.

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New Research: Natural Climate Solutions in California

Ecosystem management and land conservation can substantially contribute to California's climate mitigation goals.

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New Research: Cropland Soil and Climate Mitigation

Soil carbon sequestration and the conservation of existing soil carbon stocks is an important mitigation pathway for global climate goals.

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