On Earth Day, President Biden signed an executive order to protect the nation’s forests and promote reforestation. The executive order protects mature and old-growth forests on federal lands. The Biden administration will use investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the FY 2022 budget while working with local governments, states, tribal nations, and other stakeholders.
The Biden administration will develop 2030 targets for reforestation which includes partnerships to advance the goals beyond federal lands. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Office of Domestic Climate Policy will work with federal agencies to develop a report to the National Climate Task Force on opportunities to deploy nature-based solutions for mitigating climate change.
Deforestation to produce crops such as soy or palm oil increases carbon dioxide emissions. The State Department will combat deforestation practices by leading the development of a report on approaches to reduce or eliminate U.S. purchases of agricultural commodities grown on illegally or recently deforested lands. The State Department will also coordinate with other federal agencies to deploy tools, including foreign assistance and international partnerships, to combat deforestation worldwide.
The executive order strengthens the partnership between federal departments and stakeholders through the following action:
- The Interior Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct the first-of-its-kind inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal land. This survey will be completed and made publicly available in a year.
- The Interior Department and USDA will develop new forest policies after completing the survey.
- The Interior Department and USDA will partner with stakeholders to coordinate conservation and wildfire risk reduction efforts.
- The USDA, Commerce, and Interior Department will work with stakeholders to advance forest-related economic opportunities at local and regional levels.
- The Interior Department and USDA will address a seed shortfall by developing a plan with stakeholders.
“The country’s mature forests and big trees need to stay put, and President Biden is recognizing that,” said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “They’ve accumulated enormous amounts of carbon and can store it for decades and centuries. President Biden’s move to shift federal forest management is an essential step in fighting climate change. And we will be working to make sure federal agencies follow the President’s lead to set a global gold standard on forest protection.”
The role of forests and reforestation in climate change mitigation
Forests play an essential role in climate change mitigation. They absorb over 10 percent of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions, serving as carbon sinks. Stopping deforestation and degradation of forests is key to reducing emissions.
Around 25 percent of global carbon emissions come from the land sector, the second-biggest source of emissions after the energy sector. About half of the emissions from the land sector come from deforestation and forest degradation. About one-third of the carbon released from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by forests annually. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, stopping the loss and degradation of forests and promoting their restoration could contribute to over one-third of the total climate change mitigation scientists say is needed by 2030.
Around 129 million hectares (318 million acres) of forests, equivalent to the size of South Africa, were lost from 1990 to 2015, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates show. The annual loss rate slowed from 2010 to 2015. However, forest area loss in 2016 was 51 percent more than in 2015, mostly from forest fires.