by Pascale Chamberland, Masters of Public Administration Candidate 2021, University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy & Governance
From a massive social media campaign to plant 20 million trees to businesses planting a tree for each product sold, people seem eager to fight climate change using natural climate solutions (NCS).
These strategies aim to conserve, restore, and improve land management in order to increase carbon storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So I set out to see: is the broad appeal of NCS reflected in Washington State climate change legislation?
To answer this question, I looked at all climate change legislation proposed since 1997 and searched for key terms such as “carbon storage,” “carbon sequestration,” “forest carbon,” and “natural and working lands” to identify bills with NCS content.
In the figures below, I show change over time by categorizing the climate bills as (a) not containing any NCS content, (b) including some NCS content but NCS isn’t the primary policy objective, or (c) NCS is the primary policy objective.
This content search revealed several trends I found interesting.
NCS content was not incorporated in climate legislation in Olympia early on. It started showing up in holistic climate change bills around the mid-to-late 2000s, at the same time as the concept of nature-based solutions (NbS) began to gain ground in the European Union and around the world.
Climate legislation in Olympia has been sensitive to economic and political changes in the past. After peaking in the 2007-2008 legislative session, the number of climate bills proposed and passed fell greatly between 2009 and 2016, corresponding to the recent recession period.
Several proposed climate bills centered NCS as the primary goal for the first time in the latest legislative session. These are discussed below.
Overall, I did find that NCS appears increasingly popular as a climate adaptation and mitigation solution in Washington State. However, compared to other topics such as conservation, forest land, or agriculture, there are still relatively few climate bills being proposed or passed, and only a fraction of those include NCS content.
So what passed?
In the 2019-2020 legislative session, House Bill 2528 recognizing the carbon benefits of the forest industry was passed. Although it states that Washington supports carbon storage in forests, the bill fails to allocate any funding or create protections to prevent tree cutting or improve forest management.
House Bill 2311 to update greenhouse gas limits also passed in 2020. Although this bill was not primarily aimed at promoting NCS, the bill acknowledges the role of NCS in the State’s wider climate change strategy:
“It is the policy of the state to prioritize carbon sequestration in amounts necessary to achieve the carbon neutrality goal established in RCW 70.235.020, and at a level consistent with pathways to limit global warming to one and one-half degrees.”
I am hopeful that, if this commitment is formalized and quantified, it would create a powerful mandate for more NCS in Washington State.
Why I Study Climate Change
A couple years ago, I made the decision to abandon my 5-year career in finance tech in order to enroll at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy & Governance to develop the tools I need to help tackle the climate crisis before us.
I chose to get into this fight because I know it’s worth fighting, I think we can win it, and I hope we can make a more beautiful, happy, and just world in the process. That’s why–one year into my program and amidst a devastating global pandemic–I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to spend my summer working for The Nature Conservancy doing research on policies to store carbon while also protecting and restoring natural environments for people, plants, wildlife, and everything else we cherish on the one precious planet we have.