Land policy is a powerful lever for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening resilience to climate change.

Climate change is an existential threat to humanity. Its effects are intensifying and will pose a danger for centuries, even with aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Lincoln Institute works to improve land policy that will preempt the most catastrophic effects of climate change and help cities adapt to the impacts that remain unavoidable. This work focuses on how land policy intersects with urban planning and resilience, land conservation, and water sustainability.

Urban Planning and Resilience

Two global driving forces — urbanization and climate change — are on a collision course. Historic trends in urbanization have led to sprawl and inefficient use of resources. This exacerbates climate change and exposes millions of city dwellers, especially the urban poor, to excess risk. Better planning is critical to more sustainable urban growth.

Cities represent the problem and the solution. As home to the majority of the world’s people and economic activity, cities create most of the world’s pollution. Yet urban densification, if managed responsibly, can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade, the Lincoln Institute has cultivated expertise in the relationships among land use, transportation, and greenhouse gas emissions. The Institute advances tools and develops strategies to make urban growth less reliant on vehicular travel.

An infographic from the New Climate Economy Better Growth, Better Climate report (2014) shows the impact of infrastructure and planning decisions on cities' carbon intensity.


Land Conservation

Conservation of undeveloped land is a vital strategy for reducing greenhouse gases and for protecting ecosystems from the effects of climate change. Land conservation can also promote good urban form by steering development away from energy-dependent, peripheral areas.

Sound policy and government stewardship are necessary, but voluntary action by private landowners is imperative to the conservation of forests, open space, and farmland. The Lincoln Institute has pioneered the advancement of legal strategies, tools, and institutions to foster private and civic land conservation. In 1982, the Institute created the Land Trust Alliance, now an independent organization whose 1,100 land trusts have conserved more than 50 million acres in the United States. In 2015, the Institute launched the International Land Conservation Network, to connect organizations and people around the world that have accelerated land and water conservation efforts.

Water Sustainability

Water is the lifeblood of civilization. Its scarcity, made worse in some regions by climate change, can wreak social and economic devastation. And its use, requiring energy-intensive transport and treatment, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

As many regions around the world look to a hotter, drier future, the Lincoln Institute works to better coordinate land use planning and water management. This work focuses on the western United States, a region where massive water engineering projects allowed for urban development in arid locations from Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles. Drought conditions now threaten the region’s economy and the quality of life for millions of people.

Through collaboration with the Sonoran Institute and other western partners, the Lincoln Institute works with communities to guide planning decisions and develop tools and strategies for the efficient use of water. Among these tools is exploratory scenario planning — an emerging approach to dealing with uncertainty that accounts for risks such as drought, flooding, and wildfire. The Institute also seeks to advance innovative strategies for sharing water resources to meet the needs of agriculture, cities, tribal communities, and ecosystems.

Outside the United States, the Institute has investigated the effects of water scarcity in Latin America by studying the relationship between water allocation and land use in locations such as El Alto, Bolivia. This research has implications for rural-urban migration, urbanization, water access, and the environment.

Climate Change as a Financial Challenge

Three interrelated systems to block higher sea levels and mitigate storm surge force and flooding: a productive park network, freshwater wetlands, and tidal salt marshes

Climate change will require massive investment in low-emission and climate-resilient infrastructure in the coming years — more than $90 trillion by some estimates. The demands of climate change lend new urgency to the establishment of municipal fiscal health. In its work to improve the fiscal capacity of local governments, the Lincoln Institute has begun to innovate approaches to financing the response to climate change, applying lessons from the use of value capture.

Image credit:  DLANDstudio Architecture + Landscape Architecture pllc and Architecture Research Office

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