New Climate Report Puts Ocean and Coasts at Forefront in Fight against Climate Change

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis calls for harnessing nature to enhance resilience

Last week, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report providing an ambitious roadmap for addressing the climate crisis in the United States. The robust 535-page report provides detailed legislative recommendations and specifically highlights how restoring and enhancing natural landscapes can play critical roles in reducing climate risks to both people and wildlife. And the ocean and coasts play a central part in this plan.

The report makes a compelling case for urgent action on climate change, highlighting the threats to both people and wildlife. Since 2005, the U.S. has suffered more than 150 billion-dollar disasters, causing more than $1.1 trillion in economic losses and more than 7,500 deaths, with disparate impacts to low-income communities and communities of color. The report also states that 1 million species across the globe are threatened with extinction in the coming decades due to climate change. Audubon’s own Survival by Degrees report confirms these threats, showing that at current rates of warming, two-thirds of North America’s birds will be vulnerable to extinction. These stark statistics reinforce the need for ambitious Congressional action to tackle the climate crisis.  

To address these threats, the report describes the need to preserve and enhance natural landscapes—like coastal wetlands and estuaries—that serve as both carbon sinks capturing and storing carbon pollution, as well as natural barriers protecting communities from damaging coastal storms and rising seas. It also describes how investments in coastal restoration and resilience can provide multiple benefits by stimulating the economy and helping our country recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, enhancing resilience in frontline communities, and improving the environment for birds and other wildlife.

Additionally, the report recognizes that increasing ocean temperatures have widespread impacts on fisheries, driving fish deeper and farther into the ocean to find colder water. This impacts the ability of recreational and commercial fishing communities to catch fish close to home. And seabirds, who almost exclusively eat fish, have to spend too much energy looking for fewer and fewer available fish to eat and feed their young. The report recognizes that there is an opportunity to expand marine protected areas and our nation’s only law that manages fish, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, to incorporate climate change while balancing the needs of fisheries management systems.

The report also calls for:

  • Increasing funding and technical assistance to help states, local governments, and tribal communities assess climate vulnerabilities, develop resilience plans, and implement projects to reduce risks posed by climate change.
  • Establishing a 30-percent goal for conserving and protecting valuable ocean and coastal ecosystems that sequester carbon (known as “blue carbon resources”), increasing marine protected areas, and increasing funding to restore degraded wetlands and other coastal ecosystems.
  • Increasing funding for floodplain buyouts, restoration, and other natural infrastructure projects that will help protect coastal and riverine communities from increasing flood risks and improve habitats.
  • Expanding the Coastal Barrier Resources Act to address future sea-level rise and to shore-up the important protections provided by the Act for undeveloped ecologically sensitive coastal ecosystems that provide critical habitats to shorebirds and serve as natural flood buffers for coastal communities.

Audubon supports each of these recommendations, as they overlap with much of our existing advocacy to protect birds and the places they need. As we know, healthy coastal ecosystems will be critical to addressing the significant threats that climate change poses to coastal communities and birds and other wildlife that rely on these ecosystems to survive and thrive. We look forward to working with Congress to advance specific legislative proposals called for in this report.