Can Conservation Help Combat Climate Change?

In early October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report asserting that countries around the globe have only approximately a decade to mitigate a potential climate change crisis. The report concludes that Earth’s temperature could rise 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2040 if current emissions rates hold steady. It adds that the United States could lose roughly 1.2 percent of its GDP for every 1.8 degrees the Earth warms, on top of rising sea levels, loss of tropical coral reefs and risks of extreme heat.

The report’s findings are concerning, but fortunately conservation can help to combat climate change’s effects. Take, for example, the vital role of conservation in limiting atmospheric carbon levels. Open spaces, from farmland to forestry, create carbon sinks, natural systems that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And, with an estimated 6,000 acres lost to development every day, preserving these open lands is more important than ever to combat the threat of climate change.

A valuable tool in this mission is conservation easements, voluntary and legally-binding agreements that limit the future development of lands forever. In 2015, Congress passed an enhanced tax incentive designed to encourage private citizens to make donations of conservation easements, which effectively protect raw lands from future development.

The conservation easement tax incentive has also opened conservation to more Americans by encouraging easements from land-owning partnerships, which are often comprised of unrelated individuals. These conservation partnerships alone have conserved hundreds of thousands of acres in recent years. Conservation is expensive, and, given a lack of government resources, the private sector should play a greater role in balancing economic growth and the environment, particularly in light of the changes to our planet’s climate.

Any legislation can be improved. But, with more lands being privately conserved than ever before, as some have proposed, we should not turn back the clock on a system that is largely working as intended.

Partnership for Conservation (P4C) has developed legislative proposals that would limit rare instances of abuse but protect the integrity of conservation easements. These proposals include enhancing the definition of “qualified appraisal” to produce more accurate and well-substantiated valuations; bolstering the educational requirements to be a “qualified appraiser” and producing greater visibility and transparency of conservation easement donations by requiring clarifying disclosures.

So whether it is to combat the threat of overdevelopment or to mitigate the effects of climate change, our country and its leaders need to continue to encourage and refine public policy that drives more publicly and privately funded land conservation.

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