EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the latest edition of NACSAA News, a monthly compilation of CSA-related news. “NACSAA in Action” features the latest on the Alliance activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past month; “Other News We Are Reading” is a listing of news stories from other sources we think you will find of interest; and “Partner News and Events.” We hope this newsletter will serve to keep you, your members and other constituencies fully engaged in the growing development of climate-smart agriculture policy, programs and practices. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. To subscribe, email info@SfLDialogue.net.
U.S. Returning to Paris Climate Agreement
Within hours of his inauguration Jan. 20, President Joe Biden signed an executive order at the White House to reverse the previous administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A new instrument of acceptance of the agreement expressing U.S. consent to be bound by the pact was deposited with UN Secretary General António Guterres later in the day.
The United States was among 194 countries that signed the Agreement in December 2015 under then President, Barack Obama. Two years later, the Trump administration announced the country would withdraw from the treaty, an exit that became effective last November.
UN officials say the United States will formally reenter the agreement Feb. 19.
“I warmly welcome President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and join the growing coalition of governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis,” Guterres said in a statement.
The Paris Agreement requires governments to commit to increasingly ambitious climate action through plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Nations producing half of all global carbon pollution committed to carbon neutrality, or net-zero emissions, following a summit held last month.
“Today’s commitment by President Biden brings that figure to two-thirds. But there is a very long way to go,” Guterres said. “The climate crisis continues to worsen, and time is running out to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and build more climate-resilient societies that help to protect the most vulnerable.”
The Secretary-General underlined his commitment to work with the new US President and other world leaders to address the climate crisis and COVID-19 recovery.
Last year, the UN was forced to postpone its latest global climate change conference, known as COP26, due to the pandemic.
“We look forward to the leadership of United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero, including by bringing forward a new nationally determined contribution with ambitious 2030 targets and climate finance in advance of COP26 in Glasgow later this year”, the statement said.
In his inauguration speech, Biden made clear that addressing “a climate in crisis” was a priority, noting that “a cry for survival comes from planet itself.”
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), warmly welcomed Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris pact and rejoin “the growing coalition of governments, cities, states, businesses and people taking ambitious action to confront the climate crisis.”
Study Narrows Projected “Window” for Dangerous Warming
The threshold for dangerous global warming will likely be crossed between 2027 and 2042 – a much narrower window than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s estimate of between now and 2052.
In a study published in Climate Dynamics, researchers from Canada’s McGill University introduce a new and what they say is a more precise way to project the Earth’s temperature. Based on historical data, it considerably reduces uncertainties compared to previous approaches.
Scientists have been making projections of future global warming using climate models for decades. Climate models are mathematical simulations of different factors that interact to affect Earth’s climate, such as the atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the sun. While they are based on the best understanding of the Earth’s systems available, when it comes to forecasting the future, uncertainties remain.
“Climate skeptics have argued that global warming projections are unreliable because they depend on faulty supercomputer models. While these criticisms are unwarranted, they underscore the need for independent and different approaches to predicting future warming,” says co-author Bruno Tremblay, a professor in the McGill’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
Until now, wide ranges in overall temperature projections have made it difficult to pinpoint outcomes in different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predict a very likely global average temperature increase between 1.9 and 4.5oC – a vast range covering moderate climate changes on the lower end, and catastrophic ones on the other.
“Our new approach to projecting the Earth’s temperature is based on historical climate data, rather than the theoretical relationships that are imperfectly captured by the GCMs,” says co-author Raphaël Hébert, a former graduate researcher at McGill University, now working at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Potsdam, Germany. “Our approach allows climate sensitivity and its uncertainty to be estimated from direct observations with few assumptions.”
In their study, the researchers introduced the new Scaling Climate Response Function (SCRF) model to project the Earth’s temperature to 2100. They say that grounded on historical data, the SCRF reduces prediction uncertainties by about half, compared to the approach currently used by the IPCC.
In analyzing the results, the researchers found that the threshold for dangerous warming (+1.5oC) will likely be crossed between 2027 and 2042 – a much narrower window than GCMs estimates of between now and 2052.
On average, the researchers also found that expected warming was a little lower, by about 10 to 15 percent. They also say, however, that the “very likely warming ranges” of the SCRF were within those of the GCMs, giving the latter support.
“Now that governments have finally decided to act on climate change, we must avoid situations where leaders can claim that even the weakest policies can avert dangerous consequences,” says co-author Shaun Lovejoy, a professor in McGill’s Physics Department. “With our new climate model and its next generation improvements, there’s less wiggle room.”
Scientists Develop Cheaper Method That Might Help Create Fuels from Plants
Scientists at The Ohio State University say they have figured out a cheaper, more efficient way to conduct a chemical reaction at the heart of many biological processes, which may lead to better ways to create biofuels from plants.
Scientists around the world have been trying for years to create so-called cellulosic biofuels and other bioproducts more cheaply. A study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that it is possible to do so.
“The process of converting sugar to alcohol has to be very efficient if you want to have the end product be competitive with fossil fuels,” said Venkat Gopalan, a senior author on the paper and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at OSU. “The process of how to do that is well-established, but the cost makes it not competitive, even with significant government subsidies. This new development is likely to help lower the cost.”
At the heart of their discovery: A less expensive and simpler method to create the “helper molecules” that allow carbon in cells to be turned into energy. Those helper molecules, which chemists call cofactors, are nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and its derivative NADPH. These cofactors in their reduced forms have long been known to be a key part of turning sugar from plants into butanol or ethanol for fuels.
But NADH and NADPH are expensive.
“If you can cut the production cost in half, that would make biofuels a very attractive additive to make flex fuels with gasoline,” said Vish Subramaniam, a senior author on the paper and recently retired professor of engineering at Ohio State. “Butanol is often not used as an additive because it’s not cheap. But if you could make it cheaply, suddenly the calculus would change. You could cut the cost of butanol in half, because the cost is tied up in the use of this cofactor.”
To create these reduced cofactors in the lab, the researchers built an electrode by layering nickel and copper, two inexpensive elements. That electrode allowed them to recreate NADH and NADPH from their corresponding oxidized forms.
In the lab, the researchers were able to use NADPH as a cofactor in producing an alcohol from another molecule, a test they did intentionally to show that the electrode they built could help convert biomass, i.e., plant cells, to biofuels.
But because NADH and NADPH are at the heart of so many energy-conversion processes inside cells, the discovery could aid other synthetic applications.
NACSAA Members in Action
GACSA/Cornell Survey Shows More Regionally Specific Info Needed to Scale Up CSA
Regionally specific information regarding climate change impacts, possible adaptations, and climate/weather predictions is lacking, says a survey of members of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) conducted by the alliance and students from Cornell University.
The Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions is a NACSAA partner organization.
The survey found that the lack of data remains a significant barrier, inhibiting farmer’s adaptation to climate impacts, especially to changing growing seasons, and changes in pest, disease, and weed pressures.
The survey – “Scaling-Up Climate-Smart Agriculture Globally through GACSA” – was the topic of a live webinar discussion conducted by the university Jan. 22.
The poll of GACSA members analyzed climate change impacts to agriculture, the challenges and barriers facing farmers globally, and the need for knowledge sharing and improvements to the enabling environment and investments for climate smart agriculture (CSA).
GACSA is a multi-stakeholder platform on CSA, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Cornell is a member of GACSA and co-facilitates the Knowledge Action Group.
The survey found that while there is an abundance of existing information on CSA practices, the information is not reaching farmers. There is a need for stronger mechanisms to deliver and increase access to CSA information so that farmers understand how to adapt their practices.
Facilitating the continual and effective exchange of knowledge across different regions would allow farmers to prepare for pressures which are becoming locally relevant by learning from others’ approaches to climate change adaptation, and mitigation. Adaptation practices (for example, pest management strategies) are most effective when implemented on a community-wide scale. Individual farms may implement management strategies, but if pests, diseases, and/or weeds are abundant in neighboring farms, then there will inevitably be crossover from those other farms. Sharing knowledge among community members is therefore key to the success of adapting to climate changes.
GACSA members specifically cited the need for more access to local climate and weather services and information necessary for farmers to make decisions about planting dates, when irrigation is needed, when crops need more protection from heat, frost, hail, storms, etc., and heat stress safety for farm laborers and livestock.
The survey results stress the need to continue to pinpoint new knowledge demands in an ever-changing climate system. Even among well-educated and connected GACSA members, only 25 percent of survey respondents were accessing GACSA information resources, meaning that even when knowledge is available, it is not being distributed effectively.
GACSA members indicated that the lack of funding is the most significant barrier to CSA implementation. They also reported that there are not strong enough national Extension services to reach out to farmers with new information. And finally, respondents note that global CSA policies have not been translated into national policies. Furthermore, national policies either do not support climate-smart agricultural practices, or are not being implemented or enforced locally.
SfL and USSEC Team Up to Host Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue
SfL and the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) are teaming up to host a series of virtual “independent dialogues” this month and next that will focus on the UN Food Systems Summit.
The summit is to be convened later this year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global objectives, including taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
The SDGs, which were designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” were established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 with the intention to see them achieved by 2030. The SfL-USSEC dialogues will address the summit’s five action tracts, which include:
- Ensure Safe & Nutritious Food for All
- Shift to Sustainable Consumption Patterns
- Boost nature positive production at sufficient scale
- Advance Equitable Livelihoods
- Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress
Together, SfL and the USSEC are co-facilitating a planning team whose mission is to design, promote and manage a series of dialogues, through which producer and value chain input will be channeled into the Future of Food System Dialogues USDA is hosting this winter and spring.
NACSAA Leadership Ready to Engage Biden, New Congress Over National Climate Policy
Look for NACSAA members to engage President Biden and the new Congress this month on climate change enabling polices for agriculture.
A preview of what is expected from incoming USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack came out last month in the form of Transition Memo – Climate 21 Project.
Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group Sets 2021 Workstreams
Leaders of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture (FLCSA) will be focusing on the following workstreams in 2021:
Quantifying and Valuing AgroEcosystem Services Using Artificial Intelligence
The AI project design calls for layering management practices and examining ecosystems service deliverables using AI and computer modeling. Efforts are underway to secure necessary funding to underpin this important work.
Attributes of an effective payment for ecosystems service program.
The only way for PES programs to be successful is if they work for farmers, ranchers and foresters. With this imperative in mind, FLCSA leaders will discuss and define what it would take for them to participate.
FLCSA has committed to develop a series of public service announcements featuring farmers, ranchers and foresters delivering ecosystems services at scale. The first shoot took place on Dec 12th and featured Jim Strickland discussing ecosystems services generated through sustainable ranching operations. Their goal is to produce one PSA every two months. Each PSA will be accompanied by an op-ed that will be published in media outlets across the state along with feature articles that can help educate readers on these services.
Climate vulnerability assessment
Necessary funding to support the construction of an agricultural vulnerability assessment for the state of Florida remains a barrier to moving forward. FLCSA will be exploring creative pathways and partnerships to do to operationalize work in this track.
Limited Resource Producer Engagement
FLCSA leaders have committed to develop a manageable plan of action to engage minorities and limited resource producers by not only inviting minority farmers to the project, but building a concrete strategy for ways to identify and understand the unique needs of these communities and explore initiatives and policies that could help improve their livelihoods.
FLCSA leaders will explore distributed generation models of solar energy development where landowners would have an equity position in the project.
Post COVID, FLCSA will host one or more field days in partnership with IFAS research stations to share knowledge about systems and practices that enable the delivery of high value ecosystem services. Preliminary plans call for hosting one in the northern half of the state in a second in the southern region. The viability of these options will be explored further as the COVID-19 situation in FL evolves.
Iowa Smart Agriculture Work Group Readies Plans for New Year
The IASA work group has adopted a course of action and timeline for 2021 that includes:
- Enabling Policy – Construct a set of state and national enabling policy recommendations needed to achieve the IASA vision. (January/February 2021)
Research and Knowledge Sharing – Partner with C-CHANGE, Iowa State University’s Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises, to widely promote and share results of IASA’s cover crop/biodigester research project with farmers across the state. Suggested delivery means include webinars, field days, periodic progress reports and other knowledge sharing tactics.
Produce White Paper outlining IASA’s vision and pathways for attainment (Spring)
Proactively Inventory Related Initiatives/Platforms and determine how to engage, partner and/or collaborate (January 2021)
Outreach and Communications Work (2021)
Hold Quarterly Listening Sessions with Producers across the state on innovative systems/practices to achieve the IASA vision.
Inspire Action for solutions that can be delivered from farms and ranches via op-eds and letters to editors, social media and interviews/speakers bureau.
ACE, Other Biofuel Groups ApplaudAid Package Funding for Agriculture
Biofuel interests say they are heartened by the congressional passage of a COVID19-related $900 billion aid package that included $11.2 billion in relief to be distributed by incoming USDA Secretary-nominee Tom Vilsack.
The legislation gives the secretary the discretion to provide support to biofuel producers. Specifically, the bill says the secretary “may make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuels with market losses due to COVID-19.”
Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition or Ethanol, a NACSAA partner, released a statement noting that the package comes as a source of relief for ethanol producers suffering historic economic losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
ACE Joins in Response to Supreme Court Planto Review RFS-Related Cases
ACE joined other biofuel interests in responding to a U.S. Supreme Court decision announced Jan. 8 that it will review a decision last year from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that overturned three small refinery exemptions granted by the EPA under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
ACE joined with three other co-petitioners in the lawsuit – the Renewable Fuels Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Farmers Union – in issuing a statement in support of the appellate court’s ruling.
“Our groups believe the Tenth Circuit got it right the first time, and we will continue to defend the court’s ruling and stand up for the renewable fuel producers and farmers who have been harmed by the granting of these waivers,” the ethanol interests said. “We strongly believe the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling is consistent with the Clean Air Act and Congressional intent, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately affirm the Tenth Circuit’s decision.”
Elsewhere, ACE and the other ethanol groups were joined by other biofuel-related trade groups, including the National Biodiesel Board, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Sorghum Producers, in filing a reply in support of its motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The motion, originally filed on Nov. 23, asks the court to enforce its 2017 decision requiring the EPA to address a waiver deemed “improper” of 500 million gallons of biofuel demand in the 2016 renewable volume obligation (RVO).
In a joint statement, the biofuel groups said the “EPA should not be allowed to hide behind claims that restoring 500 million improperly waived gallons is an administrative burden that would inconvenience oil industry interests.
Partner News & CSA Events
USDA Announces Details of 2021 Ag Outlook Forum Program
The USDA announced Jan. 11 details of the 97th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, which will be held virtually on February 18-19, 2021.
The 2021 Forum, themed “Building on Innovation: A Pathway to Resilience,” will focus on the central role science and innovation have played in helping the agricultural sector overcome challenges and build resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Forum’s program (PDF, 187 KB) will begin with a presentation by USDA’s new Chief Economist, Dr. Seth Meyer, on the Department’s outlook for U.S. commodity markets and trade for 2021 and the U.S. farm income situation. A keynote address by the incoming Agriculture Secretary, presentations by Congressional leaders, and a session on genetic literacy are also scheduled for the morning on the first day of the Forum.
In addition, the program will cover five key areas:
- Supply Chain Resilience
- Commodity Market Outlooks
- Food Price and Farm Income Outlooks
- U.S. Trade and the Global Market Place
- Managing Risk and Ensuring Sustainability
- Innovation, Technology and Productivity
The 2021 Forum is expected to bring together more than 3,000 participants from the U.S. and around the world, including producers, processors, policymakers, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations. The Forum’s program includes more than 30 sessions and 100 expert speakers.
Registration for the Forum is free but required to attend the Forum sessions. To register, visit the 2021 Agricultural Outlook Forum website.
Family Farm Alliance Sets ‘Virtual’ Conference for Feb. 18-19
Originally scheduled to be held in Reno, NV, the conference will now be a virtual event, conducted via a ZOOM meeting platform. The decision by the Alliance board of directors was made after careful consideration of all options.
The 2021 conference is open to members and non-members. It will consist of two morning ZOOM sessions (Pacific Time) planned for Thursday, Feb. 18 and Friday, Feb. 19.
The formal, organizational 2021 annual meeting for members is scheduled for 12 p.m. PT Feb. 18.
The 2021 program will include a mix of departing Trump Administration water officials, incoming Biden Administration advisors, and experts who will provide updates on Western wildlife and forest health, climate change policy, and environmental markets. The program will also feature some Alliance conference traditions, including the Bureau of Reclamation Roundtable and the Capitol Hill Update.
Registration is available until Feb. 15. The cost for full access is $249 per person.
Organizers say it is important to note that each conference participant must register and pay individually for themselves. The registrant will receive an automated email from ZOOM with a link to participate in the conference webinar. The link is unique to the registrant and cannot be shared with others.
The North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) is a farmer-led platform for inspiring, educating, and equipping agricultural partners to innovate effective local adaptations that sustain productivity, enhance climate resilience, and contribute to the local and global goals for sustainable development.
NACSAA reflects and embraces all scales of agriculture in Canada, Mexico and the United States, ranging from small landholders to midsize and large-scale producers. NACSAA encourages climate smart agriculture (CSA) strategies to enhance the adaptive capacity of North American agriculture to changing climate conditions and works to achieve this goal through three complementary strategies: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods (i.e. sustainable intensification); 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.