Restore America’s Estuaries Climate Action Plan
Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) works to protect and restore the vital habitats of estuaries in the United States. Recognizing the threat of climate change impacts to coasts and wetlands, RAE is leading an initiative to create a national greenhouse gas offset protocol for tidal wetlands restoration. RAE convened a group of leading experts on wetlands science, policy, and carbon markets to provide input on greenhouse gas offsets and help develop an Action Plan to Guide Protocol Development for tidal wetlands restoration and management projects. Tidal restoration and management approaches not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they also facilitate adaptation to climate change by creating buffers for coastal landscapes to respond to sea level rise, flooding, and other climate change impacts.
RAE is a national non-profit organization consisting of 10 coastal conservation organizations that work to protect and restore the vital habitats of America’s estuaries. Members include the American Littoral Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, EarthCorps, Galveston Bay Foundation, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Save The Bay – San Francisco, Save The Bay – Narragansett Bay, Save the Sound, and Tampa Bay Watch. Estuaries provide vital habitats for a diversity of wildlife as well as provide ecosystem services that humans depend on (e.g., protecting water quality, providing food, enhancing our quality of life, acting as a flooding and sea level rise buffer). In addition, wetlands have the ability to sequester carbon by supporting standing biomass of plant material and continuously burying carbon within soils. Restoring and/or avoiding loss of tidal wetlands and coastal habitats has the potential to enhance ecosystem health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and facilitate adaptation to climate change.
In 2010, RAE convened a National Blue Ribbon Panel to establish an action plan for the creation of a greenhouse gas offset protocol for coastal tidal wetlands. The panel consisted of national experts in wetlands science, carbon markets, and public policy. In April 2010, RAE and the project partners hosted a two-day workshop for the panel followed by a public stakeholder workshop. Project partners included Philip Williams & Associates, Ltd. (now ESA); California Coastal Conservancy and Ocean Protection Council; California Ocean Science Trust; Center for Collaborative Policy; CH2M; Climate Action Reserve; Conservation Capital, LLC; Environmental Defense Fund; The Nature Conservancy; Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration; The San Francisco Foundation; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and U.S. Geological Survey. In August 2010, RAE released the Action Plan to Guide Protocol Development for tidal wetlands greenhouse gas offsets.
The Action Plan outlines clear steps regarding the science and policies necessary to advance greenhouse gas offset protocol development, including the questions that still need to be answered, strategies for answering those questions, the formation of working groups to address major issues, and the implementation of regional case studies to demonstrate reduction methods. Four major groups were identified including:
- Eligible Project Activities: four project activities that could be included in a protocol (e.g., avoided wetlands loss, wetlands restoration, wetlands management, and wetlands creation).
- Eligibility: documenting clear eligibility guidelines for tidal wetlands projects (e.g., regulations governing tidal wetlands projects, public lands and funding, environmental impacts and benefits).
- Permanence: examining issues related to ensuring the permanence of greenhouse gas reductions and removals.
- Quantification: advancing research and analysis related to greenhouse gas quantification and standardization.
In addition, the panel recommended implementing three different case studies: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (a managed, freshwater tidal marsh); the Mississippi Delta (a large-scale restoration project); and a coastal salt marsh not determined in the plan (a restoration, creation, or managed project). It is unclear if these case studies were implemented.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The Action Plan outlines the initial steps needed to create a greenhouse gas offset protocol for tidal wetlands. While the main focus of this Action Plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coastal restoration and management projects will have important climate change adaptation benefits as well. For example, tidal wetlands create space and buffers for coastal landscapes to respond to sea level rise, flooding, and other threats. Thus, the main suggestion put forth by the panel was to integrate planning for wetlands offset projects into regional climate adaptation and resource management approaches that account for a variety of factors (e.g., sea level rise, coastal erosion, changes in salinity, migration of wetland types, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning) thereby increasing wetland resilience and reducing risks to permanence. The goals of the Action Plan have since been supplanted by the 2012 release of Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to Climate Change through Coastal Habitat Restoration. This document is intended to educate professionals, policymakers, and the public on habitat restoration as a means for achieving mitigation and adaptation. RAE is implementing wetland carbon capture and storage objectives through its Coastal Blue Carbon Program and supports coastal resilience through its Living Shorelines Initiative, which educates property owners, contractors, and policymakers on the design and implementation of living shoreline projects. RAE maintains that healthy estuaries keep coastlines resilient and restoration and protection efforts are strategies that may help those coastlines adapt to or recover from climate change impacts.
Kershner, J. (2021). Restore America’s Estuaries Climate Action Plan. [Case study on a project of the Restore America’s Estuaries organization]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/restore-america’s-estuaries-climate-action-plan (Last updated October 2021)