America's Climate Action Plan: A year in review - and what's ahead

The one year anniversary of the unveiling of America’s historic Climate Action Plan is upon us. Measuring how far we have come in meeting the goals outlined in the plan and the work yet to be done is as important as the plan itself.

In June of 2013, President Obama put forward an ambitious strategy that would help America lessen our dependence on polluting sources of energy as well as re-thinking how we use and conserve energy. This plan has important consequences for our public lands. They have played a valuable role in helping meet the president’s goals, but will also continue to be a vital part of how our country combats this high threat to our planet.

The past year: Measuring progress

Smart energy development is a critical component of the strategy and significant progress has been made to permit and increase the amount of energy we get from cleaner sources like wind and solar. A commitment was made to double the amount of clean energy being developed on public lands specifically.

Through the Department of Interior’s western solar plan, permitting is more efficient in parts of the western US, where there is high potential for these resources. This means companies can expect more certainty and faster permitting when they choose to build projects in pre-screened zones. This permitting is necessary, along with rooftop solar, and development on private lands, to meet the goal of significantly increasing the amount of energy we get from renewable energy.

Beyond clean energy development, leaders have spent the past year looking for ways to increase the efficiency of our energy use, by reducing the amount of energy waste in our homes and businesses. Energy efficiency can go a long way in reducing emissions, but we also know that saving energy saves lands and we can reduce the pressure to build new energy projects on our wild lands.

New energy projects are always part of the climate conversation, but one of the most important feats of the current administration was dealing with existing power plants that have negative impacts on our climate. A recently released EPA rule has the potential to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, the largest source of global warming causing emissions in our country. This rule can take us a long way in meeting our climate reduction goals while also protecting our clean air and water resources.

The Department of Interior is also looking at ways to reduce the amount of methane emissions that come from federal lands. Methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to climate changing emissions and it is very prevalent in the process of drilling and moving natural gas to market. Because of the harm that methane causes, the administration is working hard to limit the release of the gas through new technology and tracking equipment.

As recent analysis shows, climate change can have a significant impact on more than our air and water—there is a measurable impact to our economy as well. This makes efforts to reduce climate change of even greater importance and set the stage for why we must continue doing more to meet the goals outlined by the president a year ago.

The years ahead: Continuing to make progress

One year’s time is hardly sufficient when it comes to fully implementing the strategies outlined in the Climate Action Plan. It will take continued dedication, creative thinking and collaboration between conservationists, federal, state and local governments, and the energy sector to find ways to meet our climate challenge.

Reducing methane emissions, expanding renewable energy and protecting watersheds and wildlife corridors are some of the ways we can get there.

Our public lands will continue to play a vital role, but not only when it comes to energy development. The Wilderness Society’s work to pioneer climate adaptation tools, identifying crucial climate refuges where species can retreat to when their habitat is lost, and building innovative climate monitoring techniques, will keep America’s wildlands resilient in the face of a warming climate.

Over the next year we will continue to see progress in combatting climate change and there is a sense of optimism that we are truly doing what we can as a country to adopt the opportunities outlined in the now one year old Climate Action Plan.