Welcome to NACSAA News, a quarterly compilation of CSA-related developments. “NACSAA Members in Action” features the latest on our partners’ activities; “Featured News” offers some of the biggest CSA-related stories of the past quarter; “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” offers the latest partner updates. 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, click here.
NACSAA Members in Action
USDA Launches New ‘Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities’ Program
Last month USDA launched a new initiative that Secretary Tom Vilsack says will provide up to $1 billion for pilot projects that create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.
Climate-smart commodities are produced using farming, ranching or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) or sequester carbon in the soil.
As announced by Vilsack, projects launched through the program, Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, could last anywhere from one to five years and will provide opportunities for producers to implement climate-smart systems and practices that sustainably intensify production, improve resilience and reduce and/or sequester greenhouse gas reductions.
The applicant must be an entity, not an individual. While agricultural producers and forest landowners cannot not apply directly for the program, but they may earn incentives through partner groups selected for the initiative.
The program announced by Vilsack implements recommendations shared by the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) in 2020 with the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and the USDA.
In fact, the USDA initiative is closely aligned with the framework SfL has been advocating for nearly a decade, unleashing high-value, climate-change solutions from the ag and forestry sectors on both a national and global scale. The initiative aims to utilize market approaches to reward producers for the climate-smart practices they deploy and the benefits they verify, another longstanding position supported by SfL and most recently laid out in the report last year: Solutions from the Land: A 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance.
Also tracking longstanding SfL/NACSAA policy recommendations is the role of the new pilot demonstration program to encourage large, landscape-scale projects, open to all types of producers, including early adopters as well as small and historically underserved producers.
The program will provide technical and financial assistance to producers who implement climate-smart practices on a voluntary basis on working lands. It aims to boost innovative and cost-effective methods for quantifying, monitoring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas benefits; and then marketing the resulting climate-smart commodities.
In January, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced several new and expanded opportunities for climate smart agriculture this year. Updates include nationwide availability of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Incentive Contracts option, a new and streamlined EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, and added flexibilities for producers to easily re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
New F2M Research Finds Scaling Sustainable Ag Requires Blended Solutions
Research conducted by Field to Market in December 2021 showed that progress across five key environmental indicators has largely plateaued in the last decade. This new report, issued jointly with Trust In Food, a Farm Journal initiative, builds on that finding and sheds light on the financial and psycho-cultural – or “Human Dimensions” – motivations and barriers for farmers in adopting conservation practices.
The report provides actionable insights and underscores the importance of blended solutions that give equal consideration to financial incentives, technical assistance and tailored Human Dimensions cultural support to accelerate on-farm climate impact.
“As the ‘new normal’ of a global pandemic and heightened weather, supply chain and market extremes continues, farmers still feel as alone as they did in 2020 in absorbing the shock of these changes,” said Amy Skoczlas Cole, executive vice president of Trust In Food. “This research uncovers the important finding that tailoring incentive and support programming to meet the diversity of farmer needs and motivations that can be uncovered by Human Dimensions insights is critical to program effectiveness.”
The report champions a blended approach to accelerating conservation adoption – the Golden Triangle for Accelerating On-Farm Climate-Smart Ag – by leveraging solutions across three dimensions to design effective incentive strategies tailored to meet farmers’ unique needs, challenges and motivations.
Key findings from the report include:
- Profitability is driving motivation for farmers. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of producers (76 percent) selected some form of profitability when asked what indicator is most important to assess their operation’s performance. However, the report also revealed “softer” motivations and barriers that play a significant role, such as perceived level of effort, opinions of neighbors and peers, and perception of risk.
- Reframing value through a farmer lens. Nearly two-thirds of farmers (59 percent) said they have never calculated the economic benefits provided by adopting conservation agriculture practices and 22 percent said they see no value in calculating this. Re-casting this calculation process as a critical component to financial decision-making success on the farm could increase its use.
- Mobilizing the middle majority of farmers requires a different approach than early adopters. With 88 percent of growers indicating they are not currently involved in a private company’s supply chain sustainability program, there is significant opportunity for downstream brands and retailers to mobilize the middle majority of growers by tailoring solutions to address the diversity of farmer needs and motivations.
- The food and ag value chain must carefully consider the perception by farmers of their role in driving change on the ground. While farmers wish to improve the profitability of their operations, the majority of farmers (53 percent) believe that the downstream supply chain should not influence on-farm production practice, underscoring that an intermingling of economics and personal independence is a central driver to the slow or stalled uptake of change across agriculture.
“Our joint research with Trust In Food underscores the fact that now is the time to redouble our efforts and strengthen our industry’s approach to supporting and incentivizing farmers in advancing regenerative and sustainable agriculture,” says Scott Herndon, president of Field to Market. “The challenge and opportunity facing partnerships across the value chain is how to unlock the right mix of incentives. Solutions that blend financial mechanisms, technical assistance and community support will be key to helping farmers de-risk the transition to sustainable agriculture.”
ACE Says Study Misrepresents RFS Environmental Outcomes
NACSAA partner organization, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), challenged a recent report on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) recently released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS), claiming the authors misrepresented the environmental outcomes of the RFS.
ACE board member Ron Alverson cited three key issues with the study from Tyler Lark and a cadre of other University of Wisconsin researchers, including the contention the RFS increased corn prices by 30 percent and the price of other crops by 20 percent, and expanded corn cultivation by 6.78 million acres (8.7 percent) and total crop acres by 2.47 million acres (2.4 percent) in the year following policy enactment (2008-2016).
Alverson and the coalition say corn prices during the 5-year period of 2008 through 2012 averaged $5.40 per bushel and during the 4-year period of 2013 through 2016 averaged $4.35 per bushel, a 19-percent reduction (according to Chicago Board of Trade Monthly Futures Prices). The corn cultivated area increased 2.3 percent during these same time periods and total cropland cultivated area increased just 8 tenths of 1 percent, says USDA databases.
The Lark et al. study estimates that 30-year emissions associated with RFS-induced conversions to cropland were 320.4 tetragrams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), or approximately 73.2 metric tons of CO2 per acre each year. Alverson says it appears that the Lark study has estimated more than three times the actual soil organic carbon loss rate from conversion of pasture and grasslands to cropland if it were to happen today in the Western Corn Belt.
Alverson also takes issue with the Lark study’s estimation of nitrous oxide emissions due to higher Nitrogen (N) fertilizer use during corn production, and Land Use Change, have increased 9-grams CO2e per megajoule, or 68 percent, of corn ethanol energy production. The AFL board member says USDA fertilizer use data indicate that total use of N per bushel of corn production was .88 lbs. in 2010, .82 lbs. per bushel in 2016, and .85 lbs. bushel in 2018. The data, he says, do not indicate any significant increase in nitrogen use during corn production, or nitrous oxide emissions from use of that N fertilizer. Furthermore, the adoption of precision fertilizer application technology has become widespread and has meant that N utilization efficiency is better than ever.
Alverson also questioned why the researchers used modeling to estimate current biofuel GHG emissions – an approach traditionally used to measure future impacts – when a track record of historical facts are available.
“Modeling outcomes can be manipulated and biased by small changes in modeling factors,” he said.
USDA Promotes Ag Innovation at Inaugural AIM for Climate Ministerial
At the first Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) ministerial meeting in Dubai Feb. 21, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored the importance of joint international action and investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation, calling on AIM for Climate partners to continue on an ambitious path towards addressing global climate change and hunger challenges.
Vilsack and Mariam Almheiri, the United Arab Emirates (UAW) Minister of Climate Change and Environment, led the meeting of more than 30 government officials who gathered formally for the first time since AIM for Climate officially launched in November 2022 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland.
At that time, AIM for Climate partners announced $4 billion in increased investment from public- and private-sector partners for climate-smart agriculture and the food systems innovation. At the February meeting, partners set a goal of doubling that investment to $8 billion by November 2022 at COP 27, set for Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
The AIM ministerial last month drew seven new government partners – Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, the European Commission, Guyana, Mozambique, Turkey – bringing the total to 40. Together, officials say, the government partners provide the foundation of the initiative through their ability to increase public investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation. Non-government partners, including businesses and philanthropies, are building on the foundation through “Innovation Sprints,” which are investments in specific, expedited activities that address AIM for Climate objectives. With the newest addition of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator, there are now nine innovation sprints underway.
“AIM for Climate government partners today demonstrated their strong commitment to work together to close the investment gap in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation, needed to address the twin challenges of global hunger and the climate crisis,” Vilsack said at the ministerial. “AIM for Climate seeks to expand its network even farther with new participants from across the globe.”
AIM for Climate partners will gather in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2023 to review our progress and chart out the important work ahead.”
In Dubai, AIM for Climate announced four focal areas for 2022 Innovation Sprints to be launched at COP27: smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, methane reduction, emerging technologies, and agroecological research. Also, another path for partner involvement was announced: “AIM for Climate Ideations.” The Ideations will center around insight sharing, collaboration, institutional capacity building, demonstration and deployment of agricultural innovations that support AIM for Climate objectives..
ACE, Industry Groups Encourage CARB to Recognize CSA Practices in LCFS
In a letter sent in January, the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), a NACSAA partner organization, joined other groups in calling on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to recognize the climate benefits of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) farming practices in California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).
ACE Board Member Ron Alverson separately submitted comments to CARB in response to information requests on land use change.
Alverson drew CARB’s attention to a recent research paper, “Biofuel Impacts of Food Prices Index and Land Use Change,” which he said shows there is land-use-change-related soil carbon change from biofuel feedstocks, and that change is positive. Alverson also pointed out that the food-price index has the highest correlation with the price of crude oil, not biofuel. After outlining the discrepancies between model predictions and observed data, Alverson urged CARB to revise its assumptions predicting the impact of biofuel on food prices and indirect land use change.
The feedback complements the letter ACE cosigned, which provides principles for farm-level carbon intensity (CI) accounting originally developed through the work of the Midwestern Clean Fuels Initiative.
“CARB would take a leading role in incentivizing carbon-smart farming practices in all locations that grow feedstock for LCFS fuel pathways, build knowledge regarding the short- and long-term effectiveness of various SCS [soil carbon sequestration] strategies, and speed fulfillment of California’s aggressive decarbonization goals,” the letter reads.
Quantifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for biofuel feedstocks from farm practices and assigning corresponding CI scores results in major policy benefits, including:
- Compensating farmers, on a purely voluntary basis, for climate-smart farming practices; and
- Helping achieve scale more quickly and offering significant near-term GHG emission reductions compared to private programs with less attractive carbon prices for farmers.
Guiding principles set forth in the group letter to achieve these and other benefits, include:
- On-farm conservation measures should be voluntary and not required.
- Continuous improvements in climate-smart farming practices should be incentivized.
- Protocol design should strike a balance between precision and cost for farmers and producers. CARB should develop strategies for verification of practices that minimize cost where possible while still ensuring outcomes.
- GHG lifecycle assessment, including the assessment of climate-smart framing practices, should be non-proprietary, transparent, verifiable, and repeatable.
Stakeholders are actively leveraging USDA funds to establish a quantification and verification protocol that could support CARB’s inclusion of on-farm carbon benefits. The comments cite the ACE-led Expanding Soil Health Through Carbon Markets Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in South Dakota, and broader efforts to replicate the program design to increase scientific robustness of key soil models across a variety of regions that could be used to access LCFS markets.
Joining ACE in signing off on the letter was the Great Plains Institute, the Low Carbon Fuels Coalition, the National Biodiesel Board, and the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association.
Bayer to Trial Short-Corn Variety Designed to Tolerate Weather Extremes
NACSAA partner Bayer, a multinational life sciences company, says it will launch in 2024 a short-statured corn variety designed to tolerate heavy winds and other weather issues stemming from climate change.
Bayer said a commercial trial will be undertaken by 150 U.S. farmers next year, followed by a wider release of the variety the following year.
Seed traders say the Bayer short-stature corn is the latest to join a growing list that includes drought -resistant and heat-tolerant corn and soybeans.
While initial plantings will be from traditionally bred seeds, the company said varieties with biotech traits and edited genes will go on the market in 2027 or later in North America. However, the company says the variety will eventually go worldwide.
Bayer touts the new corn variety as easier to farm, noting the shorter plants will allow for simpler mid-season applications of fertilizer, pesticides and other farm chemicals. The shorter plants will also make the crop more resilient in windy conditions, company officials said, citing the derecho that tore through millions of corn acres in Iowa in 2020.
Fertilizer Canada Stages Webinar Aimed to Promote 4R’s in Africa
Fertilizer Canada, a NACSAA partner, led a webinar this month aimed at using farmer experiences and participatory extension processes for knowledge generation and dissemination in Africa. The event was the seventh webinar held as part of the Canada –Africa 4R Solution and Precision Nutrient Management Online Series.
4R Solutions is a Global Affairs Canada-funded project that is working to improve the socio-economic well-being and resilience of 80,000 smallholder farmers, particularly women, in Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal.
Implemented in partnership with NACSAA parent organization Solutions from the Land, the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada and the African Plant Nutrition Institute, 4R Solutions helps farmers use the “Right source of nutrients, at the Right rate, applied at the Right time, and in the Right place.”
The 4Rs have the potential to address many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as the of end of poverty, the eradication of global hunger, the assurance of clean water, and the curbing of climate change.
The online series is also supported by the University of Manitoba; the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco, and the OCP Group, a leading, global plant-nutrition company headquartered in Morocco.
The series aims to create a network of African and Canadian scientists and academics with a goal of advancing 4R and precision agriculture science and extension.
Remembering Dr. Thomas Lovejoy
Dr. Tom Lovejoy, Solutions from the Land’s founding co-chair, passed away on Christmas Day.
His groundbreaking work and legacy as the “godfather of biodiversity” helped to frame both the need and the urgency for collaboration and re-alignment of thinking and resources in stewarding the world’s dynamic landscapes and watersheds.
As a legendary conservation biologist and one of the world’s foremost experts of the Amazon Basin, he was witness and advocate for how humans and nature must find sustainable ways to live and thrive. Tom’s willingness to work across the spectrum of policy and politics brought him to the Solutions from the Land Dialogue in 2009. With his gentle manner and persuasive insights, he built bridges of understanding
addressing the challenges of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss.
He helped generations, old and new, realize that we must embrace a willingness to see and design new solutions for age old problems of sustainably managing agricultural and environmental resources.
Dr. Lovejoy’s induction into the National Academy of Sciences earlier this past year was tribute and acknowledgement of his lifelong contributions and impact on mankind’s tenuous path forward. He was a friend, a colleague, a mentor and a true thought leader.
IPCC: Climate Change a Threat to Human Wellbeing, Health of the Planet
Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released Feb. 28.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks.”
The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F). Even temporarily exceeding this warming level will result in additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible. Risks for society will increase, including to infrastructure and low-lying coastal settlements.
The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability was approved on Feb. 27 by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session.
Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed millions of people to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, on Small Islands and in the Arctic.
To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. So far, progress on adaptation is uneven and there are increasing gaps between action taken and what is needed to deal with the increasing risks, the new report finds. These gaps are largest among lower-income populations.
The Working Group II report is the second instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”
There are options to adapt to a changing climate, scientists say. The report provides new insights into nature’s potential not only to reduce climate risks but also to improve people’s lives.
“Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to climate change and provide life-critical services such as food and clean water”, said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. “By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential.”
Scientists point out that climate change interacts with global trends such as unsustainable use of natural resources, growing urbanization, social inequalities, losses and damages from extreme events and a pandemic, jeopardizing future development.
“Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts.
“In this way, different interests, values and world views can be reconciled. By bringing together scientific and technological know-how as well as Indigenous and local knowledge, solutions will be more effective. Failure to achieve climate resilient and sustainable development will result in a sub-optimal future for people and nature.”
The report provides a detailed assessment of climate change impacts, risks and adaptation in cities, where more than half the world’s population lives. People’s health, lives and livelihoods, as well as property and critical infrastructure, including energy and transportation systems, are being increasingly adversely affected by hazards from heatwaves, storms, drought and flooding as well as slow-onset changes, including sea level rise.
“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” Roberts said.
“But cities also provide opportunities for climate action – green buildings, reliable supplies of clean water and renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems that connect urban and rural areas can all lead to a more inclusive, fairer society.”
There is increasing evidence of adaptation that has caused unintended consequences, for example destroying nature, putting peoples’ lives at risk or increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be avoided by involving everyone in planning, attention to equity and justice, and drawing on Indigenous and local knowledge.
Climate change is a global challenge that requires local solutions and that’s why the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides extensive regional information to enable Climate Resilient Development.
The report clearly states Climate Resilient Development is already challenging at current warming levels. It will become more limited if global warming exceeds 1.5°C (2.7°F). In some regions it will be impossible if global warming exceeds 2°C (3.6°F). This key finding underlines the urgency for climate action, focusing on equity and justice. Adequate funding, technology transfer, political commitment and partnership lead to more effective climate change adaptation and emissions reductions.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future,” said Pörtner.
Growth Energy, EPA Reach Settlement on Deadline for Issuing 2021, 2022 RVO
Following settlement discussions with Growth Energy, the EPA has filed a notice in the Federal Register seeking comment on a proposed judicial consent decree that would require EPA to finalize the 2021 and 2022 Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) by no later than June 3, 2022.
EPA’s notice comes after Growth Energy, an ethanol manufacturing trade group, filed multiple notices of intent to sue and a complaint in federal district court in response to the agency’s extended delay in issuing the RVOs. Growth Energy said the delay in issuing the RVOs, which are the subject of a pending rulemaking, is a direct violation of the deadlines established by Congress for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.
“This agreement is a significant milestone for the biofuels industry and reflects Growth Energy’s persistent efforts to hold EPA accountable to its responsibilities under the RFS to issue timely RVOs and provide market certainty,” said the trade group’s CEO, Emily Skor. ”We are pleased that EPA has agreed to take this action.”
She also expressed the industry’s hope that that the EPA’s agreement to submit a binding RVO deadline to judicial oversight gives credence to a commitment made by the agency to get the RFS back on track and provide regulated parties and the biofuels industry with timely guideposts to enhance market certainty and incentivize innovation for the future of biofuels.
She said such a commitment is particularly important as the agency moves to consider the blending obligations for the already-delayed RFS “set” in the year ahead.
Each year through 2022, EPA is required to issue a rule establishing the percentage of renewable fuel (the “Renewable Volume Obligation” or “RVO”) that obligated refiners and importers must blend to ensure that annual renewable fuel volume requirements established by statute are met.
Industry leaders say the failure to issue RVOs on time – by November 30th of the year prior to when the RVO is in effect – undermines the RFS by eliminating prospective, market-forcing blending obligations, and by creating uncertainty in the market for obligated parties and renewable fuels producers alike. For more information on RVOs, click here for FAQ.
In December 2020, Growth Energy submitted a notice of intent to sue EPA for its failure to meet the statutory deadline for issuing the 2021 RVOs. Late last year, Growth Energy submitted another notice of intent to sue EPA regarding its failure to timely issue the 2022 RVOs, as well as the “Set” renewable fuel volumes for 2023. As part of the settlement process, Growth Energy then filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District Columbia asking the court to compel EPA to issue the long-delayed RVOs for 2021 and 2022.
The Federal Register notice was published February 23 and provides 30 days for public comment from that date
Policy Study Explores Farm and Forestry Solutions to Climate Change
A Bipartisan Policy Center’s Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force has released a set of comprehensive policy recommendations its members say would emphasize voluntary and incentive-based approaches to natural climate solutions; support the needs of farm and forest producers, and landowners; promote cross-sector collaboration; and provide transparency in the methods used to track and quantify benefits from natural climate solutions.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. soils and forests have the potential to sequester about 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The task force says emerging markets for carbon credits, corporate sustainability initiatives, and new government incentive programs could, within a decade, generate tens of billions of dollars per year in new investment for working farm and forest lands.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November allocated more than $6 billion for forest restoration, hazardous fuels management, and wood products innovation, among other provisions that support natural climate solutions. The task force’s recommendations include a strong focus on policy implementation of the infrastructure act so that this and other recommended funding can be deployed quickly and effectively.
“The passage of the infrastructure act affirms ongoing bipartisan support for investing in the nation’s natural infrastructure,” said Lesley Jantarasami, BPC managing director of the Energy Program. “With the upcoming Farm Bill negotiations, and robust dialogue among industry, the nonprofit sector, and state, federal, and tribal nation partners, there is tremendous momentum to advance a suite of policies that would place U.S. agriculture and forestry in a position to achieve durable and effective climate solutions.”
In Federal Policies to Advance Natural Climate Solutions, the task force identifies six distinct policy objectives:
- expanding existing conservation programs;
- addressing technical support and workforce needs;
- strengthening voluntary carbon markets;
- developing new finance and insurance instruments;
- enhancing carbon storage and climate resilience of farm and forest lands; and
- fostering farm and forest-based climate innovation.
“Our recommendations come at a critical juncture for advancing bipartisan climate solutions, and I say this as a latecomer to the climate issue,” said task force co-chair, former Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “I’m proud of the work that this task force has accomplished to recommend strategic changes at USDA, without replacing core programs, to enable more farmers and forest landowners to do their part for the climate.”
“Our task force grappled with tough questions of how carbon programs and markets can achieve both business and environmental goals, and in ways that bring more farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to the table,” said task force co-chair, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “If enacted, our policy framework will ensure government programs and financial capital are accessible to all producers and forest landowners – especially those who have been historically underserved by the USDA – and will accelerate the shift toward more sustainable land management systems that provide meaningful climate and economic benefits.”
The Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force met throughout 2021 to enhance the role of American agriculture and forestry as valuable natural climate solutions and provide new revenue streams to farmers, ranchers, and foresters. Co-chaired by former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Saxby Chambliss, the task force includes leaders across agriculture and forestry, environmental and conservation nonprofits, trade associations, and former government officials. The group shares a common view that America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners can play a pivotal role in addressing climate change, both by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their own operations and by adopting practices and technologies that increase the amount of carbon stored in soils, forests, and wood products.
Pioneering Research Forecasts Climate Change Set to Send Costs of Flooding Soaring
Climate change could result in the financial toll of flooding rising by more than a quarter in the United States by 2050, according to a British university-led study, published last month in in Nature Climate Change.
University of Bristol researchers deployed advanced modelling techniques to make the colossal calculations, which forecasted average flood losses would increase by 26.4 percent, from a current $32 billion per year to $40.6 billion in less than 30 years.
By analyzing nation-wide property asset data and detailed flood projections, the team developed for the first time a comprehensive, high-resolution assessment of flood risk in the United States. The estimates of financial loss, which include damage to homes, businesses and their contents, were based on 2021 dollar values, so the actual numbers would likely be much bigger factoring in inflation.
While the research reveals poorer communities with a proportionally larger white population face the most danger at present, future growth in flood risk will have a greater impact on African American communities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Predicted population change was also shown to have a have a huge effect on flood risk, resulting in four-fold increases compared to the impact of climate change alone and sending costs further spiraling.
Lead author Dr Oliver Wing, Honorary Research Fellow at the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, said, “Climate change combined with shifting populations present a double whammy of flood risk danger and the financial implications are staggering.
“Typical risk models rely on historical data which doesn’t capture projected climate change or offer sufficient detail. Our sophisticated techniques using state-of-the-science flood models give a much more accurate picture of future flooding and how populations will be affected.
The research was carried out in partnership with experts from universities in New York, California, and Philadelphia.
CBE FRS, Professor of Hydrology at the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment and School of Geographical Sciences, said: “Current flood risk in western society is already unacceptably high,” said co-author Professor Paul Bates. “Yet climate and population change threaten to inflate these losses significantly. The relatively short timescales over which this increase will take place mean we cannot rely on decarbonization to reduce the risk, so we have to adapt better, both to the situation now and for the future.”
Megadrought in SW North America Region’s Driest In At Least 1,200 Years
The drought that has enveloped southwestern North America for the past 22 years is the region’s driest “megadrought” — defined as a drought lasting two decades or longer — since at least the year 800, according to a new UCLA-led study]in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Thanks to the region’s high temperatures and low precipitation levels from summer 2020 through summer 2021, the current drought has exceeded the severity of a late-1500s megadrought that previously had been identified as the driest such drought in the 1,200 years that the scientists studied.
UCLA geographer Park Williams, the study’s lead author, said with dry conditions likely to persist, it would take multiple wet years to remediate their effects.
“It’s extremely unlikely that this drought can be ended in one wet year,” he said.
The researchers calculated the intensity of droughts by analyzing tree ring patterns, which provide insights about soil moisture levels each year over long timespans. (They also confirmed their measurements by checking findings against historical climate data.) Periods of severe drought were marked by high degrees of “soil moisture deficit,” a metric that describes how little moisture the soil contains compared to its normal saturation.
Since 2000, the average soil moisture deficit was twice as severe as any drought of the 1900s — and greater than it was during even the driest parts of the most severe megadroughts of the past 12 centuries.
Studying the area from southern Montana to northern Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, researchers discovered that megadroughts occurred repeatedly in the region from 800 to 1600. Williams said the finding suggests that dramatic shifts in dryness and water availability happened in the Southwest prior to the effects of human-caused climate change becoming apparent in the 20th century.
Existing climate models have shown that the current drought would have been dry even without climate change, but not to the same extent. Human-caused climate change is responsible for about 42% of the soil moisture deficit since 2000, the paper found.
One of the primary reasons climate change is causing more severe droughts is that warmer temperatures are increasing evaporation, which dries out soil and vegetation. From 2000 to 2021, temperatures in the region were 0.91 degrees Celsius (about 1.64 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the average from 1950 to 1999.
“Without climate change, the past 22 years would have probably still been the driest period in 300 years,” Williams said. “But it wouldn’t be holding a candle to the megadroughts of the 1500s, 1200s or 1100s.”
As of Feb. 10, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 95% of the Western U.S. was experiencing drought conditions. And in summer 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, two of the largest reservoirs in North America — Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both on the Colorado River — reached their lowest recorded levels.
Regulators have continued to implement water conservation measures in response to water shortages caused by the drought. In August, for example, federal officials cut water allocations to several southwestern states in response to low water levels in the Colorado River. And in October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked Californians to voluntarily decrease their water usage by 15%.
Williams said initiatives like those will help in the short term, but water conservation efforts that extend beyond times of drought will be needed to help ensure people have the water they need as climate change continues to intensify drought conditions.
The study was a collaboration among researchers from UCLA, NASA and the Columbia Climate School.
Other News We Are Reading
The NCEI released last month the final update to its 2021 billion-dollar disaster report, confirming what much of the nation experienced throughout 2021: another year of frequent and costly extremes. The year came in second to 2020 in terms of number of disasters (20 versus 22) and third in total costs (behind 2017 and 2005), with a price tag of $145 billion. (Read more…)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement delivering on the commitment to combat climate change and highlighting key accomplishments to combat climate change at the Department of Agriculture since the Biden-Harris Administration took office on January 20, 2021. The effects of climate change on the nation’s agriculture, natural resources and communities are already a grim reality. Longer, more severe droughts, catastrophic wildfires, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and other record-setting natural disasters exacerbated by climate change continue to devastate lives and livelihoods. (Read more…)
What does a “resilient” forest look like in California’s Sierra Nevada? A lot fewer trees than we’re used to, according to a study of frequent-fire forests from the University of California, Davis. More than a century ago, Sierra Nevada forests faced almost no competition from neighboring trees for resources. The tree densities of the late 1800s would astonish most Californians today. Because of fire suppression, trees in current forests live alongside six to seven times as many trees as their ancestors did — competing for less water amid drier and hotter conditions. The study, published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, suggests that low-density stands that largely eliminate tree competition are key to creating forests resilient to the multiple stressors of severe wildfire, drought, bark beetles and climate change. (Read more…)
A new analysis from McKinsey & Co. estimates that the investment in new infrastructure and systems needed to meet international climate goals could be $9.2 trillion a year annually through 2050. That’s at least $3.5 trillion more a year than the world is currently laying out for both low-carbon and fossil-fuel infrastructure and changes in how people use land. McKinsey analysts wanted a sense of how much investment would be necessary, and what behavioral changes would be required, to slash the impact of greenhouse gas pollution to zero by 2050, in alignment with scientific guidance and the Paris Agreement. Their findings suggest that in return for stable planetary conditions, coal use would be virtually eliminated globally by 2050. Oil and gas production would drop 55 percent and 70 percent, respectively, and 200 million new jobs would replace 185 million positions the global economy no longer needed. Power-sector investment could raise electricity prices by a quarter until 2040 and they would remain 20 percent higher than today through 2050. (Read more…)
Mortgage giant Fannie Mae is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set federal standards for how home sellers disclose flood risks to potential buyers. The recommendation would shine a light on potential damages homeowners would face from climate change, which has contributed to rising sea levels, stronger storm surges and heavier rainfalls that increase flooding. The government-controlled Fannie Mae buys mortgages from lenders and sells them as securities to investors. FEMA operates the National Flood Insurance Program. Only a handful of states currently require sellers to tell buyers whether their home has incurred flooding in the past or if it exists in a flood zone. Climate advocates have pushed for all states to ensure sellers convey that information, arguing that failing to do so distorts property values and leaves buyers exposed to flood-related damages not covered by home insurance. (Read more…)
When it comes to measuring global warming, humidity, not just heat, matters in generating dangerous climate extremes, a new study finds. Researchers say temperature by itself isn’t the best way to measure climate change’s weird weather and downplays impacts in the tropics. But factoring in air moisture along with heat shows that climate change since 1980 is nearly twice as bad as previously calculated, according to their study in the January 1st Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The energy generated in extreme weather, such as storms, floods and rainfall is related to the amount of water in the air. So a team of scientists in the United States and China decided to use an obscure weather measurement called equivalent potential temperature – or theta-e – that reflects “the moisture energy of the atmosphere,” said study co-author V. “Ram” Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cornell University. It’s expressed in degrees, like temperature. (Read more…)
Like boxers whose punching power declines over their careers, greenhouse gasses lose their warming impact at different rates. So, to compare gasses’ climate changing potential to the most common greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide – international negotiators often use a metric that measures their influence on global warming over a 100-year timeframe. A new Stanford University study published Jan. 26 in Environmental Research Letters indicates that approach underestimates methane’s importance in achieving the Paris Agreement climate goals by up to 87 percent. Instead, the scientists propose using a 24-year timeframe instead, consistent with the goal of keeping global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The researchers argue their approach would ensure emissions of methane, a potent but comparatively short-lived gas, are weighted correctly over the time period before such temperature thresholds are crossed. This, in turn, could help countries more quickly prioritize reducing methane emissions – an essential step toward slowing global warming. (Read more…)
Partner News and Events
BIOGAS AMERICAS 2022 Set by ABC for May 23-26 in Las Vegas
Registration is open for BIOGAS AMERICAS, the annual conference of the American Biogas Council and the biggest gathering of the U.S. biogas industry this year. Organizers say the gathering in Las Vegas May 23-26 is a “must attend” event for all in the industry – “a place to meet with like-minded professionals, leadership and decision makers across the industry.”
With a focus on growing the biogas market through informing, training and networking with potential clients, vendors and industry champions, organizers say the event is not an expense, but an investment. BIOGAS AMERICAS is organized by the American Biogas Council, the only trade association championing the entire biogas industry, working across America to grow the biogas market for the benefit of everyone involved.
“Whether you are a project developer, equipment supplier, service provider, operator, investor, utility, policy-maker, or anyone whose success depends on the growth and profitability of biogas as a resource, there is no better way to build your business and stay informed of the latest developments in the industry,” the ABC says of the event.
The event will be staged at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa, 11011 W Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89135. For additional information, contact the ABC at 202-640-6595, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.