Teams tackle climate policy on two fronts in one week

Woodwell Climate scientists kick off fall push with testimony, meetings, and events in DC and NYC

photo by Eric Lee

We are nearly one fifth of the way through what has been called the decisive decade for climate change, and just weeks from the next round of UN climate negotiations at COP27 in Egypt. In recent months, powerful storms, devastating flooding, and lethal heat waves have all driven home the severity of the threat and the urgent need for action.

At this critical juncture, Woodwell Climate scientists are ramping up efforts to see natural systems—both the risks and the solutions they present—fully and fairly accounted for in climate policy. This week, more than a dozen Woodwell Climate staff, board members, and partners traveled to both Washington, D.C. and New York, NY to connect with decision-makers.

Congressional testimony

On Tuesday, September 20, 2022, Woodwell Arctic Program Director and Permafrost Pathways lead Dr. Sue Natali testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The subject of the hearing was “Strengthening Science to Respond to a Rapidly Changing Arctic.” Dr. Natali highlighted the devastating impacts of rapid landscape change facing Northern communities and the global climate threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions from permafrost thaw.

Research area

“Greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost could use up 25 to 40% of the remaining carbon budget to stay below 2°C warming,” Natali told the Committee. “Yet these emissions are generally underaccounted, in part, due to major gaps in Arctic carbon monitoring and modeling. The failure to accurately account for permafrost thaw undermines the integrity and efficacy of global mitigation policy.”

The Permafrost Pathways project that Dr. Natali launched in April with support through the TED Audacious Project is partnering with Alaska Native communities to co-develop strategies for responding to climate hazards, while also working with high-level policymakers to incorporate permafrost thaw emissions and impacts into federal and international climate policy.

Dr. Natali called for increased federal research support to expand the scope and timeframe of research, improve interagency coordination and international collaboration, and support Alaska Native tribes to coproduce knowledge and lead climate change research.

Congresswoman Haley Stevens summed up the impact of the testimony, saying “I came into this hearing thinking ‘ice, ice, ice, ice.’ I’ve read a lot of articles about a world with ice. And now I’m leaving thinking ‘permafrost, permafrost, permafrost.’”

Deep Dive: Read Dr. Natali’s full written testimony.

DC fly-in

Increasing research capacity was also a theme during Woodwell’s first DC fly-in. Together with our partners at the Niskanen Center, Woodwell Climate scientists, staff, and board members participated in fifteen meetings with elected officials and congressional offices, focusing on opportunities to support natural climate solutions through the next Farm Bill.

“This fly-in highlights Woodwell’s commitment to impact,” said Chief of External Affairs David McGlinchey. “We’re meeting with congressional offices on both sides of the aisle to offer our expertise and ensure they have the tools they need to make climate smart decisions. To affect change, it’s essential that our science gets into the hands of decision makers.”

Based on our expertise in soil and forest carbon storage, Woodwell has identified seven priorities for inclusion in the next Farm Bill, due for passage in 2023:

  1. Ensure carbon markets are credible mechanisms for providing real climate benefits as well as financial benefits to producers.
  2. Use the Conservation and Forestry titles of the Farm Bill to encourage natural climate solutions.
  3. Maximize the carbon storage potential in U.S. forests while reducing wildfire risk and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from fires.
  4. Increase eligibility and usage of crop insurance to protect small-scale farmers from the increasing physical hazards of climate change.
  5. Increase research capacity to meet the need for better monitoring and standardization, as well as building a natural lands and environmental data infrastructure, which are needed for carbon markets.
  6. Incorporate Woodwell’s safeguards and principals for the implementation of natural climate solutions.

Deep Dive: Explore Woodwell Climate’s Farm Bill 2023 Priorities

Three people sit on stools in front of an audience with a presentation screen behind them.
Man in jacket and tie shakes hands with two women

Left: Dr. Mike Coe, Dr. Sue Natali, and Dr. Heather Goldstone present at The Explorers Club, Climate Week NYC 2023.

Right: Woodwell President and CEO speaks with attendees at The Explorers Club, Climate Week NYC 2023.

Photo credit: Sarah Ruiz

Climate Week NYC

While one Woodwell delegation was in Washington, D.C., another was in New York for Climate Week NYC 2022. In addition to meeting with partners and participating in a range of events on natural climate solutions, Woodwell collaborated with One Earth to host a hybrid event at The Explorers Club on Wednesday evening. 

Arctic Program Director Dr. Sue Natali and Tropics Program Director Dr. Mike Coe shared updates from Alaska and Brazil, highlighting climate connections between the two disparate regions. The inextricable human element in rapid landscape change and the importance of supporting Indigenous leadership was a common theme. 

“Humans are not separate from nature. We are nature,” said Dr. Natali. “It’s critical, if we want to find solutions to climate change that are just and that are viable, that we have Indigenous people leading the charge and providing us with guidance.”

Dr. Coe echoed that sentiment and emphasized the need to understand and work with the full range of land stewards to effectively conserve forests. His work has identified four key groups of landholders in the Brazilian Amazon whose needs and wellbeing must be centered in efforts to develop effective solutions to tropical deforestation. That includes bolstering the land tenure rights and resources of Indigenous communities, also providing technical support to small-scale farmers, incentivizing landholders to forgo legal rights to deforest, and preventing illegal deforestation and burning.

While both speakers were unflinching in their descriptions of Arctic warming and tropical deforestation, many attendees said the presentations left them feeling more connected and motivated. Dr. Heather Goldstone, who moderated the conversation, called on all those in attendance to continue that by sharing what they were learning with their own families, friends, and peers.

Deep Dive: Watch the full event recording.