Policy Solutions to Climate Change through Agriculture and Forestry

By Julia Johnson

The coronavirus has dominated the news cycle over the last five months and has disrupted nearly every industry, particularly agriculture and forestry. Leaders, innovators, and policymakers in these fields are looking for solutions that will mitigate future supply chain disruptions like the ones experienced due to the coronavirus. Therefore, it is not surprising that climate change has emerged as a serious concern for future supply chain disruption.

In the last few months, Congress began taking bolder, more direct steps towards further integrating agriculture and forestry into climate change policy. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its long awaited report and policy recommendations on Solving the Climate Crisis. Additionally, key members of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees introduced the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act. Most recently, the Rural Forests Markets Act was introduced in the Senate. What is in these recommendations, and how might they impact U.S. farmers and foresters?

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis’ Solving the Climate Crisis report lays out a series of policy recommendations for congressional action to achieve a clean energy economy and prepare the U.S. to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. The plan calls for net-zero economy-wide emissions in the U.S. by 2050, establishing targets to evaluate progress, emphasizing the reduction of pollution in environmental justice communities, and achieving net-negative emissions looking beyond 2050.

The focus of the climate action plan’s 8th pillar is “Invest in American Agriculture for Climate Solutions.” The plan proposes Congress increase spending on new and existing conservation programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, that provide financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers who deploy practices that increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They would also expand U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources in order to allow for more climate change mitigation research and partnerships with the private sector. On-farm renewable energy would be supported, farmland and other national spaces would be preserved, young, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers would be prioritized, and local and regional food systems would be supported.

Forest land conservation, as well as the use of both public and private forest land for carbon capture, is also seen throughout the climate action plan’s policy recommendations. The report suggests the accelerated use of carbon capture in building materials, for example, by reducing the capture threshold for carbon utilization and increasing funding for the Forest Service’s Wood Innovation Program. The plan also suggests increased investments in research and development of climate-smart wood products and develop market incentives for these products.

In June, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Committee Member Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Don Bacon (R- NE) introduced its companion bill in the House. The bill incentivizes the use of climate-smart practices on farms and forest land by providing a pathway for landowners to participate in carbon markets. It establishes a Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and a Third-Party Verifier Certification Program through the USDA that would help private landowners generate carbon credits through climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices.

More recently, Ranking Member Stabenow and Senator Braun introduced the Rural Forests Markets Act. This bill encourages the voluntary adoption of land management practices that draw carbon out of the air and store it in forests. It would establish the Rural Forest Market Investment Program that offers guaranteed loans to nonprofits and companies to help foresters create and sell forest credits for storing carbon and for other environmental benefits.

Off the Hill, there has been growing discussions of the effectiveness of agriculture and forestry as climate change mitigators. In late July, the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s Energy Project’s Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Initiative released a report titled Natural Carbon Solutions in U.S. Farms and Forests: Building a Policy Agenda for Congressional Action. In conjunction with this launch, the BPC hosted a webinar on this topic that featured remarks from Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) and panelists Robert Bonnie, the current Director of the BPC’s new Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Initiative and former USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, and National Alliance of Forest Owners President and CEO Dave Tenny.

Last week, Politico’s The Long Game newsletter solely discussed agriculture policy and climate change as well, saying, “The notion that policymakers should encourage farmers to suck more carbon out of the atmosphere and sink it into their soil barely registered on the national radar a few years ago. Today, it’s in vogue, attracting press coverage and boatloads of venture capital, pushing a once-radical idea into the mainstream.”

Later this week, Cargill’s Sustainability Director Greg Downing will participate in the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’ discussion entitled Tackling Twin Crises: A Path Toward Economic Recovery and Climate Mitigation.

It is clear that decisive action from our political leaders is needed. OFW will be tracking this agriculture and forestry climate change mitigation legislation and recommendations as they are discussed further in the coming months.

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