Many rural counties in the United States face the dual challenges of lagging economic growth and increasingly severe effects of climate change. While urban areas are not uniformly prosperous and rural areas are not uniformly poor, rural communities on average lag behind their urban counterparts on most key economic indicators — from poverty rates to labor force participation. Rural areas represent 86 percent of persistent poverty counties in the U.S., while over 50 percent of rural Black residents live in economically distressed counties.

These challenges have been intensified by economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing inequalities and highlighted urgent infrastructure needs. At the same time, catastrophic wildfires, record heatwaves, drought and other severe weather events linked to climate change threaten rural communities and livelihoods.

Addressing both the climate crisis and lagging economic vitality will require federal investment in building a new climate economy for rural America — one that reduces greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero while creating jobs, uplifting economically disadvantaged communities, and enhancing ecosystem services. This opportunity is already being realized in targeted regions (clean energy is a growing economic engine for many rural communities) and federal policymakers have the opportunity to dramatically expand on this progress.

New WRI analysis finds that an annual federal investment of nearly $15 billion in key areas of the rural new climate economy would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural communities, add billions of dollars of value to rural economies, and generate millions in new tax revenues. This investment would help combat the economic stagnation confronting many rural areas and ensure that the benefits of the transition to a net-zero economy are widely distributed.

Read the full article about rural America and climate policy by Devashree Saha at GreenBiz .