West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Adopts Climate Change Policy

During its October meeting the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Board adopted a policy on climate change.

            The genesis for the climate change policy came from a poll of Conservancy members on their opinions on climate change. The poll found that 78 percent of Conservancy members were “very concerned” about climate change, and an identical percentage of Conservancy members wanted the Conservancy to develop and publish a policy on climate change. Following the survey, the Climate Change Committee began the process of developing the policy recommended by Conservancy members. Here are the highlights of the policy.

  • The policy list several impacts of climate change on the Allegheny Highlands, including warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns (more rain and snow in the fall, winter and spring, less rain in the summer), and adverse impact on Eastern Brook Trout and other coldwater fisheries. The policy also recognizes several global impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, more numerous and more intense wildfires, and more severe hurricanes.
  • The WVHC policy made several findings: that climate change is real; that its impacts are already occurring and will increase in severity until meaningful action is taken; and that mankind’s actions are a major contributor to climate change.
  • The policy states that in developing solutions to climate change that we should “first do no harm” by preserving and protecting old-growth forest and other timber stands.
  • The policy endorses the emission reduction targets developed by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC found that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change that carbon dioxide (CO2) emission need to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. (Note net-zero emissions means that there will continue to be emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2050, but more CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere — by planting trees for example — than is being emitted.) The Conservancy will support international agreements or treaties that move the world towards achieving these benchmarks.
  • Nationally, the Conservancy will evaluate Congressional proposals to address climate change on whether they will reduce greenhouse gases by the benchmarks established by the IPCC: 45 percent reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Proposals to address climate change could include a regulatory approach like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, cap-and-trade initiatives, carbon fee and dividend approach, or the Green New Deal. “For the WVHC how emissions reductions occur is less important than assuring that significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions actually do occur; and occur as quickly as possible.”
  • The policy also endorses a “just transition.” Under a just transition, those who are likely to be disproportionately impacted by initiatives to address climate change, and in particular coal miners and coal mining communities, are provided adequate resources in order to make this difficult but necessary transition.
  • The policy concludes by reaffirming the Conservancy’s “historic role of protecting and expanding the forest of the Allegheny Highlands,” as one approach to addressing climate change.

Two important aspects of this policy are worth noting. First, the policy is grounded in science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the world’s preeminent climate research organization, comprised of thousands of climate scientist from across the globe. Embracing the IPCC’s findings is the cornerstone of the Conservancy policy. Second, creation of the policy was inspired by Conservancy members. 

To see the entire policy, look on page 5.