White House Plan Looks to Nature to Improve Climate Resiliency, Biodiversity, and Social Equity

Policy, funding, and training reforms can help reduce impacts of floods and other disasters, report says

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White House Plan Looks to Nature to Improve Climate Resiliency, Biodiversity, and Social Equity
Group of young volunteers planting sea grass in Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Volunteers plant seagrass along the coast in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Nature-based solutions such as restoring wetlands can help make communities more resilient to flooding.
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At the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP27) in November in Egypt, U.S. President Joe Biden underscored his administration’s commitment to leveraging nature to increase communities’ resilience to climate disasters, which continue to grow in intensity and frequency throughout the country. President Biden said the vision is laid out in a new report, “Opportunities to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions: A Roadmap for Climate Progress, Thriving Nature, Equity, and Prosperity,” which his administration has developed to speed up nationwide adoption of approaches ranging from restoring natural streambeds and flood plains and protecting coastal wetlands to installing green roofs and replacing impervious surfaces with porous ones to better manage storm runoff.

With billions of dollars poised to flow to local, state, Tribal, and federal agencies from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there is significant opportunity to increase adoption of nature-based solutions (NBS). For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant program, which provides resources and technical assistance for community resilience, awards points to proposals that prioritize NBS.  

Both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act—which President Biden signed into law in 2021 and 2022, respectively—provide agencies with nature-focused mitigation and resilience funding to help address complex social and ecological challenges, such as inequitable access to federal funds for less-resourced cities, towns, and communities of color; and unprecedented biodiversity loss, increased flooding, hotter average temperatures, and record-setting droughts.  

The new report is a first-of-its-kind effort between the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Office of Domestic Climate Policy, as well as several federal agencies, to—as the report authors wrote—take a “hard look at what is need[ed] to ambitiously scale up nature-based solutions.” In doing so, the report acknowledges the many barriers that local communities, states, and Tribes often face when seeking solutions to climate-related hazards such as flooding and sea-level rise.

For example, there may not be sufficient awareness among city and state planners, engineers, elected officials, or community leaders that NBS, such as living shorelines in coastal areas or flood plain restoration along rivers, are viable options for flood mitigation. The roadmap report recommends that federal agencies move toward encouraging and prioritizing such solutions in funding programs as much as possible, including “where they are not yet explicitly considered.” The report also highlights additional barriers: that, historically, nature-based strategies were not eligible for funding under some federal programs, meaning that competition is tight for the few NBS-focused grants available to communities.

Other key takeaways from the report include recommendations to:

Update policies to better facilitate nature-based solutions by making NBS’ benefits more evident on federal balance sheets and in decision-making.

  • Federal agencies should revise their plans and policies around cost sharing, risk management, and cost-benefit analyses to make it easier for non-federal partners to consider and adopt NBS.
  • Federal agencies should consider NBS—either alone or in combination with other solutions—in their alternative analyses for potential projects. For example, current federal policy requires FEMA to revise flood plain management requirements so that NBS are offered as a viable alternative for all projects affecting flood plains or wetlands.
  • The report advises agencies to prioritize permitting for NBS and to use “general permits,” such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide permits for living shorelines, to accelerate project development and implementation.

Unlock funding by prioritizing NBS in decisions for domestic and international projects. The report also recommended increasing and easing access to this funding and catalyzing private investment.

  • Federal agencies should make it easier for local, state, and Tribal governments to access funding for NBS by prioritizing these solutions in funding decisions and streamlining and coordinating application processes. This might include creation of a “one-stop shop” for coordinated or common applications for technical assistance, or organizing funds around a particular challenge or region. Multiagency panels or community engagement liaisons could listen, provide support, and recommend customized opportunities for under-resourced communities.
  • Federal programs should encourage private investment in NBS by matching private sector support with federal funds, and advancing and adopting innovative finance models, such as green banks, which can leverage public and private financing.

Train the NBS workforce. The report identified a lack of public and private sector professionals trained in designing and implementing NBS, which often requires skills different from those needed for conventional approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation.

  • The report advises federal agencies to expand educational and workforce training related to NBS to support federal and private sector jobs. To encourage and expand the next generation of conservation and resilience workers, agencies must review and diversify youth corps programs by including NBS content, according to the report.
  • The Office of Management and Budget and OSTP are establishing a federal technical working group to “provide a forum where federal agency staff can collaborate, share lessons, and align methods with the central federal guidance on needed advances in benefit-cost analysis, including for NBS,” the report states.

If implemented effectively, the report’s recommendations will mark a major step forward in the Biden administration’s commitment to fighting climate change. This implementation would also help cities, states, and Tribal Nations, including lower-income communities, by creating smoother grant application processes and more opportunities to leverage nature in resilience-building efforts.

Anna Marandi works on federal- and state-level resilience plans and policies for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ flood-prepared communities project.

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