|Two little blue herons standing above water on dead tree trunk and mangrove roots at Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS
At the end of last year, 196 nations came together to establish the Paris Agreement, an ambitious and historic pact to address climate change and cut greenhouse gases. The United States played a leading role in this effort, bringing the global community together to take real steps to reduce climate change emissions and prepare for coming impacts. You can read the full text of the agreement here.
On this Earth Day, the United States will become one of the first signatories to this agreement, which will enter into force only after at least 55 countries responsible for causing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have signed on.
This agreement is a cause for optimism, but not complacency. Optimism because it establishes ambitious targets to limit global average temperature increases to well under 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, while providing a mechanism to regularly ratchet up global commitments and drive down emissions over time. The agreement also establishes more transparent tracking to hold countries accountable and requires a global effort to “take stock” of climate action every five years. It encourages the public and private sectors to rapidly invest and participate in the developing energy economy, and explicitly recognizes the importance of anticipating and addressing climate-related impacts to the earth’s wildlife and natural systems.
But our work is just beginning. Despite its ambitious targets, the agreement’s emission reduction commitments are not yet strong enough to hold global temperature increases below 2°C. Indeed, the world has already experienced an increase of about 1°C. Even if fully implemented, our communities and ecosystems, including the diverse species the Service manages, will continue to feel serious effects from increasing climate disruption in the years and decades to come.
As Secretary Jewell has stated, the Department of the Interior has an important role to play in ensuring the success of the Paris Agreement, including supporting clean energy development, reducing our own carbon emission, promoting carbon sequestration, investing in sound science, and continuing to manage our trust resources under new and changing threats.
I’m proud to say the Service is doing just that. Our Climate Adaptation Network (CAN), a regionally and programmatically representative advisory group of senior managers, will continue to work with staff across the agency to address climate change and plan adaptation actions. In particular, CAN will work to expand access to information and tools, clarify our goals and strategies, provide effective policy and guidance, and ensure accountability at all levels. The group will also host our first ever Climate Change Practitioners’ Forum at NCTC in June, bringing together staff from around the nation to share success stories, explore key questions, learn from each other and set the stage for a path forward.
These steps are important. But, our agency’s most critical climate change response is happening right now on the ground, as we integrate climate change into our daily work.
For example, refuges like J.N. “Ding” Darling, Ten Thousand Islands, Merritt Island, Archie Carr, Pelican Island and Lower Florida Keys face impending threats from sea-level rise, increasing air and sea-water temperatures and changing storm patterns. Threats like these are game changers for these refuges’ extensive mangrove forests, which provide vital habitat for dozens of species of fish, birds and crustaceans, while buffering inland areas from hurricanes and other severe weather.
In face of these very real threats, we’re working with the USGS Land Carbon Program to assess the vulnerability of mangroves at several key refuges. Together, we’re using remote sensing tools to evaluate changes in mangrove distribution and abundance, measure carbon stocks in mangrove forests, and other indicators that can tell us if the ecosystem can keep pace with sea-level rise.
Alaska’s communities and resources are also experiencing rapid environmental changes. Even in this remote northern region, human activities are fragmenting the landscape, and climate change is happening at two to three times the global rate. We are working with Alaskan communities and other partners through Alaska’s Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to understand, anticipate and address these changes on Arctic ecosystems and the communities and wildlife they support, including polar bear and walrus. If we can work with partners to design ecologically connected landscapes now, while these landscapes are still relatively intact, we may be able to avoid the global trend of environmental fragmentation and degradation.
We’re also doing our part to minimize our carbon footprint, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral as an agency by 2020. And we’re working to facilitate the shift to clean energy that is essential for limiting climate change, ensuring that impacts to species and habitat are avoided, minimized, and mitigated as renewable energy sources are planned and developed.
As I’ve said before, climate change is not something “extra” that we can consider if and when we have the time. We must make climate change a fundamental part of how we approach our core responsibilities in order to meet the mission of our agency.
I urge you to learn more about what’s happening around the Service and discover how you can integrate climate adaptation and planning into your daily work. With your support and engagement, I’m optimistic we’ll succeed in sustaining wildlife and habitat for future generations.