USDA will play a crucial role in the future adoption of ag climate smart practices and carbon market establishment. The AGree Climate, Food, and Agriculture Dialogue (CFAD) — a diverse and bipartisan group of producers, food and agriculture companies, and civil society organizations — is calling for USDA to take on greater responsibility to help farmers in future climate endeavors.
CFAD has rolled out a multi-prong set of approaches to prioritize producers’ livelihoods and recognize the role of U.S. working lands as a source of climate solutions. In the first submission, CFAD calls on USDA to strengthen its support of research and science for climate-smart agriculture.
In the second, CFAD outlines guiding principles to inform the creation of a USDA National “Climate Bank” which would offer rewards for all climate contributions, not just carbon sequestration. USDA support for land management innovation will enable the agriculture, food, and forestry sectors to deploy the technical assistance, infrastructure and market-based solutions needed to meet the challenges of climate change.
“Meeting the challenges of climate change requires a robust, multi-pronged set of solutions, and they must be backed by federal policies that prioritize producers’ livelihoods and the role of U.S. working lands,” says Heather Lair, partner at Meridian Institute who leads CFAD. “USDA has an opportunity and responsibility to invest in climate-smart agriculture that will chart a path that allows agriculture to thrive while making serious progress on the challenges of climate change.”
How a carbon bank would work
CFAD proposes that a USDA National Climate Bank should be created to finance a voluntary, non-regulatory initiative to bolster carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation by U.S. agriculture and forestry. The Bank would purchase or co-finance climate outcomes or “carbon credits” sourced from U.S. working lands through reverse auctions, loans, grants or other mechanisms.
The goal would be for the Bank to be a catalyst to boost promising GHG markets involving U.S. agriculture and forestry.
Although much focus currently is on carbon credits for carbon sequestration, a Climate Bank would help finance, incentivize and account for the climate-related contributions of U.S. agriculture and forestry, including from livestock management such as grazing, enteric fermentation, and manure management.
CFAD also suggests a National Carbon Bank should support enabling conditions and complement existing policies such as technical assistance and voluntary market infrastructure to ensure that practices can be carried out on the ground at scale. “Bolstering technical assistance and infrastructure support are vital to climate-smart agriculture,” the recommendations note.
CFAD sees a need for an integrated public-private vision for incentivizing climate-friendly agriculture practices and clearly delineating public and private roles.
“The private sector has played a leading role in advancing GHG and ecosystem service markets and investing in platforms, technologies, and protocols for measuring, reporting, verifying, and trading credits,” the recommendations note. “We recognize this significant groundwork and urge USDA to find ways to build upon private market development efforts; reduce barriers to participation for farmers, ranchers, and foresters; and provide confidence in agricultural practices and their verification.”
The recommendations state a Climate Bank, in partnership with farmers, ranchers, and foresters and the private sector, will accelerate adoption of climate-smart practices on working lands, helping to reduce U.S. emissions and in some cases delivering important co-benefits, like water quality and quantity, habitat, etc., while supporting producers. This Climate Bank should:
- Include all greenhouse gases and food-, agriculture-, and forestry-related strategies, not just those related to carbon sequestration.
- Leverage private investment to spur the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices.
- Provide funding to producers to develop GHG credits that can co-finance climate outcomes with the support of private sector developers, recognizing and leveraging existing third-party standards.
“Through USDA’s involvement and oversight, a wide range of farmers, ranchers, and foresters will have the opportunity to participate in the market, learning alongside private market developers, to bring the U.S. land sector successfully into these markets, in a credible, equitable, and verifiable way,” the recommendations detail. “The role of agriculture and working lands as contributors to climate change is too significant to dismiss the use of market forces, such as carbon markets, to help reverse climate trends.”
Role of research
Research is critical to climate mitigation and adaptation. USDA and the U.S. government have research assets that must be coordinated and leveraged to build the science and business cases for management change.
“Research can improve the evidence base around climate-smart agriculture where there are still gaps, identify and inform strategies to overcome barriers to adoption at scale, monitor trends in GHG emissions and sequestration on agricultural and forest lands, and align goals at the farm scale with those of ecosystems and society at larger scales,” the research recommendations note.
CFAD recommends that USDA:
- Immediately create a “climate research coordinator” position to develop a coherent climate research strategy across all USDA agencies, coordinate climate research with other federal agencies, and engage with external research stakeholders.
- Build the business case for climate-smart agricultural practices (i.e., conduct pre-competitive analysis and modeling that demonstrates the economic value associated with climate-smart agriculture practices).
- Develop and pilot tools for farmers and university researchers to access USDA datasets in a way that respects farmer data privacy and autonomy.
- Ensure that diverse farmers, ranchers and farming systems can participate in federal conservation programs and adopt climate-smart agricultural practices.
- Improve the rigor and transparency of climate models and measurements to support the efforts of the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory and private ecosystem service markets.
CFAD says science continues to demonstrate the need for land sector solutions to prevent global warming; a 2020 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the land sector is critical in order to prevent more than a 1.5 C degree warming of the planet over pre- industrial levels. 9.3% of U.S. GHG emissions come from agricultural production and studies continue to show that the U.S. land sector has the potential to be a significant source of carbon dioxide sequestration and GHG reductions.