Agriculture and forestry have much to contribute in stemming climate change, and with the appropriate policies have much to gain, members of the 25x'25 Steering Committee said Wednesday.
The Steering Committee issued Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy: Solutions from the Land, a set of "policy principles and imperatives that can help stakeholders and policy makers guide the nation's transition to a reduced carbon economy," said Nathan Rudgers, a member of the Steering Committee. The principles were issued at a media teleconference held during the 5th National 25x'25 Renewable Energy Summit held at the Sheraton Crystal City, Arlington, VA.
"A new energy future is unfolding; one that will maximize reliance on clean renewable forms of energy," Rudgers said. "Climate legislation will be a part of that future. It is no longer a question of 'If?' It is now a question of 'When?' and 'How? America's farms, ranches and forests can provide cost effective and value added greenhouse gas emission reduction services and it's time for the solution sets they can provide to be integrated into the nation's overall climate change strategy."
Rudgers is also the chairman of the Steering Committee's Carbon Work Group, a special panel of more than 50 nationally recognized producers, economists, conservationists, and academic and business leaders that authored Solutions from the Land. He said agriculture and forestry are well positioned to provide solutions to climate change, and with the correct enabling policy, the two sectors have much to gain. "We can reduce, sequester and convert greenhouse gases, and in doing so maximize land-based solutions to climate change," he said.
However, to insure the active participation of agriculture and forestry in any new climate change regulatory system, "policymakers need to understand the benefits and challenges these sectors will face in addressing climate change, and this will only happen if agricultural interests have a seat at the table," Rudgers said. "There are still many unknowns around how the new greenhouse gas regulatory system will be structured, but agriculture and forestry leaders are prepared to do their part to help address this growing global challenge."
As articulated in the principles released Wednesday, the 25x'25 National Steering Committee believes that:
- The environmental impacts, such as the increasing frequency of wildfires, insect outbreaks and rising sea levels, and the economic cost of inaction warrant action.
- Sufficient science and political momentum exist to warrant action now.
- Adaptation and mitigation must be pursued simultaneously.
- Sustainability must be considered in all policy decisions.
- The requirements of the global as well as national communities must considered simultaneously.
Preceding the recommended principles and imperatives in Solutions from the Land is a discussion guide that concludes there are a number of ways in which agriculture and forestry can join in the fight against climate change. "Congress and the White House have made clear their intention to address global warming and a national climate change policy is expected soon," said Bart Ruth, chairman of the 25x'25 Policy Committee and a member of the Carbon Work Group. "The time for agriculture and forestry to get in the game is now."
Ruth, a former president of the American Soybean Association, cites EPA figures that show agriculture contributes some seven percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), but can also provide a reduction of U.S. GHGs of anywhere from 10 to 25 percent. The sectors' ability to reduce GHGs can lead to significant environmental improvements as well as new revenue streams. "But the net gains will depend on the costs agriculture and forestry may incur under a new regulatory scheme," he said. "Some operations will be required to change practices, like planting vegetative buffers to achieve carbon sequestration, or acquire technology like anaerobic digestion to reduce methane emissions. There are also likely higher costs for fuel and fertilizer to be considered."
"To gain the full participation of agriculture and forestry, any new climate change regulatory system adopted by Congress and implemented by the administration - be it cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, or a combination of those programs - must create a market that can sustain robust carbon prices," Ruth said. He added that if a cap-and-trade system is ultimately adopted, qualified offsets - those that are based upon good science and provide legitimate, long-term reductions in GHGs - must be allowed.
"These policy principles and imperatives were developed following discussions and input from a wide cross-section of 25x'25 partners," said Fred Yoder, chairman of the Carbon Work Group's Communication Committee. The former president of the National Corn Growers Association said the result "is an evolving collection of recommendations regarding climate change policy, its implementation, and what must happen for the agriculture and forestry sectors to maximize their potential to deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions."
According to Solutions from the Land, Yoder said "any climate change policy to be considered should include emissions reductions, biological sequestration, and avoided emissions, and should be designed to cover a term long enough to allow effective planning by both capped and uncapped sectors." Yoder said any policy option adopted should recognize "early actors" - businesses and operations that have taken actions to stem climate change. He also said the policy should not favor particular industry sectors, but "should be developed in a process that is outcome-oriented and technology-neutral. It should also be neutral when considering the marketplace - offsets should be traded across all markets."
"And any climate change regulatory system must be enforceable," Yoder said.
Solutions from the Land also lays out climate change principles specific to agriculture and forestry, says Antonio Miguel R. Bento, an associate professor in Cornell University's Department of Applied Economics and Management, and a member of the Carbon Work Group. "Any climate change policy encompassing agriculture and forestry must allow the sectors, which represent primarily diffuse emissions sources and sequestration opportunities, to deliver reductions," said Bento.
He also said that policy must include a well-specified project qualification process that allows quick inclusion of new project types that meet eligibility requirements. "And the policy must engage sector participation to the fullest available extent. These sectors have the potential to reduce hundreds of millions of tons of emissions per year," Bento said.
Neil Sampson, another member of the Carbon Group and past executive vice president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, says a climate change policy that takes in agriculture and forestry must acknowledge and count climate change benefits in programs that reward landowners for other ecosystem services, like the Conservation Reserve Program.
"Policy makers must recognize that the agriculture and forestry sectors will strive to produce emissions reductions that are complementary to their role as stewards of the land, protecting and enhancing the economic value of their land assets," Sampson said. He emphasized that a climate change policy must also make a significant investment in research and development and education that will actualize emissions reduction opportunities.
If lawmakers and the White House ultimately settle on a cap-and-trade system, Solutions from the Land sets out specific imperatives that must be met if emission reductions are to be realized by the agriculture and forestry sectors. Those imperatives include:
- Agriculture and forestry should be identified explicitly as uncapped sectors capable of generating significant quantities of GHG reductions.
- While offsets must be allowed, only qualified offsets will be acceptable. Qualified offsets must be real, additional to reductions that would have occurred without the offset credits verifiable, registered, substitutable at par for allowances, and permanent (or of a contracted duration).
- If allowances are auctioned under a cap and trade system, the funds generated could be beneficially used for a wide variety of program requirements, including conducting needed research and financing government carbon sequestration programs.
- Cap and trade program rules must balance environmental rigor and accounting precision against operational practicality.
- Offsets must be registered based upon reductions verified after the fact; no forward crediting based upon future expectations will be allowed.
- Under cap and trade, there must be recognition of both "early actors" in uncapped sectors and "credit for early action" within capped sectors.
- Under cap and trade, the system design must identify and guard against potential perverse outcomes, such as the temporary cessation of a practice in order to restart the same practice as a qualified additional project earning offsets.
- Cap and trade system design must guard against unintended collateral consequences such as water quantity or quality degradation.
- While there may be challenges relative to whether an offset project would have happened under a business as usual scenario, payments for other ecosystem services such as water quality improvements should not be precluded by participation in the carbon offsets markets. Rather, participation in multiple ecosystem service marketplaces should be allowed and the benefits should be "stackable."
- International offsets should be allowed into a U.S. domestic cap and trade system under requirements that ensure compliance with domestic offset rules. They should be subject to the special requirements of trade agreements, reasonable quantitative limits, and reciprocal linkage to other broad-based programs such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol.
- Cap and trade program rules must clarify ownership and prevent double counting.
- Existing and proposed policies ancillary to, or parallel with, a federal cap and trade system must not conflict with cap and trade rules.
- While the Environmental Protection Agency should be the administrator of a cap and trade program, the USDA should be the administering agency with respect to agriculture and forestry offset project rules.
To read and download a copy of an executive summary of Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy: Solutions from the Land, which includes a complete list of 25x'25 Carbon Work Group members and other important indices, click here. For the complete document, click here.