WWF’s US policy priorities: looking back on 2021 and ahead to 2022

An American flag waves in the wind in front of the Capitol dome

As we enter the second year of the Biden Administration, we’re recognizing the impressive and even transformative progress WWF made on key environmental challenges we are facing—and acknowledging the significant work that remains to ensure that progress is real and lasting. This will set much of WWF’s US government advocacy agenda this year.

Tackling the climate crisis

At the top of the agenda for WWF—and for the Biden Administration—is the need to reestablish and revitalize US leadership on the climate crisis, both at home and abroad. In the first few months of the Administration, we saw a flurry of activity, with the US immediately rejoining the Paris Agreement and the President taking a series of executive actions to create a whole-of-government response. This included the establishment of a special envoy for climate change, an interagency task force on climate change, and a climate policy office within the White House. The US also announced an enhanced climate commitment to reduce emissions by 50%-52% by 2030 and pledged to quadruple US international climate finance commitments by 2024, which aligned closely with WWF’s goals.

To back up these commitments, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan and corresponding legislation introduced in Congress included historic new investments to achieve US climate targets, as well as measures to advance climate justice and protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. The Build Back Better Act passed the House but remains stalled in the Senate. Getting it to the President’s desk with its climate provisions intact remains a top priority for WWF. We will also work to advance policies and legislation to reduce emissions in specific sectors of the economy, including the aviation and industrial sectors.

Investing in wildlife and wild places

Tied to the progress on the climate crisis was new attention to and investment in nature and biodiversity. One of WWF’s major messages to the US government in 2021 was the need to see the crisis of global nature loss on par and intertwined with the climate crisis—and to respond accordingly. By the end of the year, this message was being echoed throughout the federal government through the promotion of nature-based solutions to act on climate, a $9 billion pledge to conserve global forests, and a plan to conserve 30% of US lands and waters by 2030.

Congress also embraced WWF’s call for historic increases in global conservation programs in their annual funding bills. Locking in these funding increases is a key goal for WWF over the next couple of months, as is ensuring that the Administration keeps nature high on its foreign policy agenda in the run-up to critical global meetings scheduled to take place this year.

Preventing future pandemics

WWF also made a major push to emphasize the role that conservation needs to play in our efforts to prevent future pandemics. Zoonotic spillover, where viruses jump from animals to humans, is the source of most emerging infectious diseases in humans and the likely source of the next pandemic. Much of that spillover is driven by high-risk trade and consumption of wildlife as well as deforestation and the encroachment of human development into spillover hotspots, particularly in the tropics. Working with our coalition partners in the conservation, health, and development communities, WWF helped drive efforts with Congress and the Administration to ensure that addressing these root causes is a key part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We succeeded in getting new funding approved for these efforts and comprehensive legislation introduced, including the Global Pandemic Prevention and Biosecurity Act. We aim to get a bipartisan bill passed this year.

Advancing conservation legislation
WWF also saw the introduction of several other bills to support its conservation priorities, including the AMAZON21 Act to combat deforestation and carbon emissions, the Tropical Forests and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act to allow developing countries to relieve debt owed to the US in exchange for long-term commitments to protect tropical forests and coral reefs, and legislation to ensure the continued sale of the Save Vanishing Species stamp, which helps fund global wildlife conservation. We also saw the introduction of bipartisan bills to address illegal and unsustainable trade in wildlife, timber, and fish. 

Additionally, we are working to secure an executive order in 2022 that would ensure the US takes critical steps to strengthen its approach to illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing by the end of the President’s term.

Taking action on plastic pollution

We saw strong positive movement over the past year around US efforts to phase out the use of unnecessary plastics and other materials and implement strong recycling and reuse systems. The US announced support for a global treaty to tackle plastic waste and revised its national recycling strategy to include source reduction and environmental justice concerns, looking to eliminate the disproportionate burden our plastic waste crisis bears on underserved communities. WWF also collaborated with private sector partners to launch the OneSource Coalition, comprised of 16 companies and partner organizations. This year, our efforts will increasingly focus on the passage of legislation, such as the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, to give agencies the authority and direction to reform the US recycling system and create a circular economy.

Keeping up the momentum

In 2021, we were able to work with a new Administration and make great strides on WWF’s conservation and climate policy agenda. Still, we have significant work to do to fully achieve our goals, including through the passage of critical legislation.

This year, we’ll focus on ensuring that Congress delivers on the work that is underway and that the Administration continues to champion global conservation efforts. As always, we can’t do this alone: our partnerships, supporters, and activists will be key to our success in securing US government action. We recognize that the next 12 months are pivotal in our fight to save the planet, and we believe that, by working together, we can achieve the ambitious goals that we have set.