How to Tackle Climate Change,
Food Security and Land Degradation
How can some of world’s biggest problems – climate change, food security and land degradation – be tackled simultaneously?
Some lesser-known options, such as integrated water management and increasing the organic content of soil, have fewer trade-offs than many well-known options, such as planting trees, according to a Rutgers-led study in the journal Global Change Biology.
“We argue that if we want to have an impact on multiple problems, we need to be smart about what options get us multiple benefits and which options come with potential trade-offs,” said lead author Pamela McElwee, an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “We found that many of the better-known solutions to climate mitigation and land degradation come with a lot of potentially significant trade-offs.”
The idea of planting trees in vast areas to remove carbon dioxide from the air and reduce the impact of climate change, for example, has attracted a lot of attention, with some claiming it’s the best “low-hanging fruit” approach to pursue, McElwee said. But large-scale tree planting could conflict directly with food security because both compete for available land. It could also diminish biodiversity, if fast-growing exotic trees replace native habitat.
Some potential options that don’t get as much attention globally, but are quite promising with fewer trade-offs, include integrated water management, reducing post-harvest losses in agriculture, improving fire management, agroforestry (integrating trees and shrubs with croplands and pastures) and investing in disaster risk management, she said.
The study examined possible synergies and trade-offs with environmental and development goals. It was based on a massive literature review – essentially 1,400 individual literature reviews – conducted by scientists at many institutions. They compared 40 options to tackle the interrelated problems of climate change, food security and land degradation and looked for trade-offs or co-benefits with 18 categories of services provided by ecosystems, such as clean air and clean water, and the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.
The work was done as part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land released last year. Such reports offer only highlights, and this study includes all the details.
ACE Commends House Climate Committee for Acknowledging Ethanol Is Part of the Solution to Reduce GHG Emissions
The American Coalition for Ethanol commended the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (HSCCC) for recognizing the role of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by advocating a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).
In a report providing recommendations for future legislation in Congress to tackle climate change, the Select Committee included among its recommendations that Congress should develop a technology-neutral LCFS.
ACE CEO Brian Jennings said an LCFS would reward farmers and biofuel producers for using climate-smart practices.
“It is gratifying so many in Congress are recognizing that increasing the use of ethanol is part of the solution to further reduce [GHGs],” Jennings said. “Properly crafted low carbon fuel policy built on top of the Renewable Fuel Standard’s success in beginning to break our country’s reliance on petroleum is one of the most meaningful things Congress can do to address climate change.”
Jennings cited “the strategic spade work” ACE has been doing to leverage ethanol’s low carbon benefits in the market.
“In 2018 we issued a white paper, “The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol,” illustrating how lifecycle modeling needs to better reflect modern-day farming practices and ethanol production technologies and why increasing ethanol use is part of the solution to further reduce GHG emissions,” the ACE CEO said.
In 2019, the coalition helped lead a diverse set of stakeholders in developing a framework to encourage new low carbon fuel markets in the Midwest.
“Our January 2020 report, ‘A Clean Fuels Policy for the Midwest,’ describes how properly crafted policy can spur low carbon fuels, reduce costs to consumers, and provide meaningful economic benefits to farmers and biofuel producers,” Jennings said.
The committee’s report “not only cites our Midwest Clean Fuel Policy framework as a positive example of progress, it also mirrors our recommendations to reflect the best-available science for lifecycle assessments and reward farmers and biofuel producers using climate-smart practices that reduce carbon emissions, store soil carbon, and reduce nitrous oxide emissions,” he said.
Jennings cited the select committee’s recommendation of what it describes as a “zero-emission vehicle” standard, but said ACE believes a new vehicle program needs to be “technology-neutral and include production of more Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) that can take full advantage of carbon-negative ethanol fuels.”
The ACE chief said his organization appreciates “the collaborative nature” of the congressional process on the issue to date and anticipates “constructively engaging in supporting solutions that benefit our climate, drivers, and our rural economy.”
Farming, Biofuels, Public Interest Groups
Challenge EPA on SAFE Rule
A broad coalition of ethanol, agriculture, and public interest groups are challenging the Trump administration’s recent fuel efficiency rulemaking, on that grounds that it downplays the harm from reduced emission standards, ignores the efficiency and health benefits of higher ethanol blends, and fails to realize the promise of increased octane in gasoline.
The rule in question, known as the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficiency Vehicle Rule (SAFER), was finalized on April 30, 2020, reversing an Obama-era rule that called for significant improvements in vehicle efficiency. Issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it established a 1.5 percent increase in efficiency each year for light-duty vehicles, far short of the 5 percent increase in the existing rule. In the notice of proposed rulemaking, EPA requested information on octane levels and how they could be increased in accordance with the Clean Air Act, but ultimately failed to address these concerns in the final rule.
In response to what the groups call “EPA’s failure to credibly consider and advance mid-level ethanol fuel blends as an alternative to conventional fuels,” they filed a petition for review in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
The legal challenge, which is being led by National Farmers Union (NFU), also includes the Governors Biofuel Coalition, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, the Environment and Energy Study Institute, several NFU state and regional divisions, Glacial Lakes Energy, Siouxland Ethanol, and the Urban Air Initiative. Previously, the group filed comments focused on octane and related issues.
“There is strong evidence that ethanol can improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all while providing new markets for farmers and bolstering rural economies,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “Given their benefits, NFU advocated a clear path to adoption of mid-level ethanol blends in our earlier comments – which EPA all but ignored. As such, NFU is well-positioned to advance this legal challenge against the agency.”
Additionally, in accordance with Title II of the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to reduce toxics in gasoline to the greatest extent possible as new technologies become available, the groups say.
“Higher ethanol blends are that technology, and they are available today,” said South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke. “We know that widespread implementation of these blends would result greatly reduce toxics as well as provide a significant octane boost.”
The petitioners believe this action will require EPA to defend a flawed cost-benefit analysis and faulty assumptions regarding the emissions and harm associated with the toxic and carcinogenic aromatic compounds refiners currently use for octane in traditional fossil fuels.
IRENA Puts Energy Transformation at Heart
Of Sustainable Recovery Agenda
Governments can align immediate economic stimulus needs with medium to long-term decarbonization and sustainable development objectives by targeting policy measures and public spending towards energy transformation, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds.
Post-COVID recovery: An agenda for resilience, development and equality outlines immediate stimulus action for the next three years (2021-2023) as well as measures for a mid-term 2030 recovery perspective over the next decade. It provides practical insights and recommendations for governments as they drive investment and policy actions for post-COVID-19 economies.
The report shows that on an annual basis, scaling-up public and private energy spending to $4.5 trillion per year would boost the world economy by an additional 1.3 percent, creating 19 million additional energy transition-related jobs by 2030. Jobs in renewables alone could triple to 30 million by 2030. Every million dollars invested in renewables would create three times more jobs than in fossil fuels.
“Renewables have proven to be the most resilient energy sources throughout the current crisis”, said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “This evidence should allow governments to take immediate investment decisions and policy responses to overcome the crisis. With today’s recovery plan for governments, IRENA uses its global mandate on energy transitions to inform decision-making at this critical time, while staying on course toward a fully decarbonized system by 2050.
Doubling annual transition investments to $2 trillion over the next three years will provide an effective stimulus and can leverage private sector investments by a factor 3-4. Reforming fossil fuel prices, retiring fossil fuel assets, driving green financing and bailouts, and strategically investing in energy transition must be immediate priorities, IRENA’s report advises.
The annual $2 trillion invested would boost GDP by 1 percent and create additional 5.5 million transition-related jobs in three years. Underpinning labor and industrial policies are required to leverage local capacities and skills and create industries and jobs across the value chain.
Any recovery strategy should include innovative solutions and emerging technologies such as green hydrogen with the potential to eventually deliver a net zero energy system. By investing in their commercialization, governments and businesses can ensure sustained long-term growth.
Renewable-based power generation would become the backbone of future energy markets, supported by transition-related industries like battery storage. But renewable heating and cooling must also be scaled up along with energy efficiency. Renewable-based transport scan expand with incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) and continued infrastructure investment (including smart grids and EV charging stations), as well as emerging fuel solutions.
“Now is the time to invest in a better future”, said La Camera. “Government policies and investment choices can create the necessary momentum to enact systemic change and deliver the energy transformation away from fossil fuels. Driving a structural shift towards cleaner energy systems and more resilient economies and societies is more urgent than ever. Most of all, this is a global agenda, and we must leave no one behind.”