Rural Climate Policy Priorities

Friday, September 4, 2015

The intent of this working document is to describe climate change concerns specific to rural communities in the United States and identify policy approaches that are supportive of on-the-ground solutions. It reflects ideas and input from Rural Climate Network member organizations and other rural organizations, leaders and experts in the U.S. This is a starting point; additional input, perspectives and policy solutions are welcomed, as are questions, inquiries and endorsements. For more information about this document or the Rural Climate Network, email Tara Ritter at


  • American Sustainable Business Council
  • Arctic and Mountain Regions Development Institute
  • California Climate and Agriculture Network
  • CEI Maine
  • Center for Rural Strategies
  • Environmental and Energy Study Institute
  • Farm Aid
  • Forest Guild
  • Green Dot Project
  • Healthy Community Food Systems
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • League of Rural Voters
  • Main Street Project
  • Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light
  • National Network of Forest Practitioners
  • Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance
  • Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
  • Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate
  • Pesticide Action Network North America
  • Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA
  • Rural Advantage
  • Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
  • Sustainable Northwest
  • Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District


Rural communities are on the front lines of climate change. Effectively responding to this challenge requires political and on-the-ground responses, and rural communities and resources are critical to both. Policy leaders need to engage rural communities in solutions to climate change, and rural leaders need to be more actively involved in climate policy development and implementation to ensure it meets the needs of all communities. 

Rural America encompasses 18% of the population but approximately 84% of the geography, including most of the natural resources essential for survival and under threat from climate change. Within the rural landscape are also many of the climate solutions we need, including renewable energy resources, forests, farms and rangelands that can capture carbon when managed appropriately, and most importantly, the people and ingenuity required for successfully transitioning to a low carbon economy.  

To succeed, climate policy must reflect rural residents’ concerns and the solutions they see to the problems their communities face. On average, rural communities are more food and energy insecure and earn less than their urban counterparts. They are also more vulnerable to many expected climate impacts, including energy volatility, extreme weather and infrastructure issues. This is especially true among the poorest rural areas, including many tribal communities and reservations, communities in the Southern Delta and Appalachia, and other areas where long-standing racial and economic inequities exacerbate the already significant divides between rural and urban areas. Policy responses to climate change need to acknowledge and address these inequities so that all rural community members can benefit from a new era of sustainable, just and climate friendly rural development.

To achieve these cross-cutting and transformative outcomes, U.S. climate policy needs to be based upon the following principles:


Climate change is the largest systemic crisis our country has faced and its impacts are increasingly unpredictable. To handle such disruption, policy solutions need to focus on increasing the resiliency of our communities, economy, and the natural systems they depend on. We must prioritize climate responses that minimize emissions and community risk. Climate policy and action must also increase the ability of the nation’s farms, towns, people and rural tribal communities to retain their fundamental structure, function, and identity while adapting to a changing climate. 


Climate policy must be equitable and ensure that all members of society are supported and strengthened. Policies must be constructed and delivered in ways that recognize historical and ongoing discrimination, and work to reduce – not increase – current and long-standing economic, racial, cultural, gender and other forms of inequality.

Diverse, Democratic and Locally Determined

Rural America is diverse in terrains, cultures, people and knowledge. There is no one-size-fits-all climate solution for all rural communities. Therefore, recognition, respect and support of the diversity of rural America must be at the forefront of climate policies. Policies should encompass diverse solutions, utilize locally produced ideas, and respect the unique characteristics, culture and knowledge of each rural community. Local democratic institutions should be accountable to their communities and empowered to deal with local issues and concerns. Local and community ownership of renewable energy and other key resources should be prioritized based on the benefits that accrue to rural economies.

Transformative and Long Term 

Renewable and sustainable rural economies will ensure stable food supplies and ample natural resources for the entire country. However, many rural communities will need support in transitioning to sustainable economies. Such shifts are transformative and ultimately result in greater economic diversification and community resiliency, but are often more risky and expensive up front. Climate policy must support approaches that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable in the long-term, and provide assistance and risk mitigation in making that transition, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged rural communities and residents. 


To read the full document, click here.