Biden Boosts the Role the Ag Sector Can Play in Stemming Climate Change

January 28, 2021

On Wednesday, President Biden announced an executive order that fully affirms his administration’s intent to both take on climate change, and count on the agriculture sector to carry major responsibilities in the effort. The order commits to a stakeholder engagement process calling on agricultural and forest landowners (among others) to identify strategies that will result in broad participation in the White House effort to address the climate challenge.

Following a day in which he announced his plans to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement, Biden said Wednesday that climate considerations will be “an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.” He notes that his administration will work with other countries and partners both bilaterally and multilaterally “to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway,” and that the nation will move quickly to build resilience against the impacts of climate change “that are already manifest and will continue to intensify.”

According to a fact sheet issued by the White House, the order directs the Secretary of Agriculture “to collect input from farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders on how to use federal programs to encourage adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that produce verifiable carbon reductions and sequestrations, and create new sources of income and jobs for rural Americans.” We welcome this invitation and we look forward to sharing the recommendations of the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance with Secretary Vilsack.

Within weeks after his election, Biden cited the role the agriculture sector can play in delivering climate solutions, calling for measures to pay farmers for sequestering carbon in their soil. The sequestration strategy is one of several initiatives his administration will pursue on the agriculture front, given that his pre-inauguration transition team’s Climate 21 Project memo lays out a strategy to encourage farmers, ranchers, and landowners to adapt practices that scientists believe can help draw down atmospheric carbon. The memo calls for conservation tillage, cover crops, reforestation and methane digesters for livestock operations.

Biden’s executive order, which calls for a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035, also calls on federal agencies to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and to stimulate clean energy development. The order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review siting and permitting processes to increase renewable energy production on public lands and in offshore waters.

The clean energy directive aligns with the goals of the SfL-supported 25x’25 Alliance, a farmer, rancher and forester-led grassroots movement launched more than a decade ago. The initiative held that by 2025, America’s farms, ranches and forestlands can provide 25 percent of the energy consumed by this nation via wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass, all while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.

Despite significant forward progress, more work is needed to achieve the 25x’25 goal. That is why sensible enabling policies are needed to help expand and accelerate the trajectory this nation is on.

It’s important to note that any clean energy strategy must include sustainably produced biofuels. Ethanol, biodiesel and other homegrown renewable fuels offer low-cost, dependable fuel alternatives that help enhance the nation’s energy security, reduce carbon emissions and improve public health. As findings released last week by researchers at the Environmental Health & Engineering Inc. (EH&E), Harvard and Tufts Universities shows, greenhouse gas emissions for corn-based ethanol are now shown to be 46 percent lower than those from gasoline. While e-mobility solutions demonstrate great future promise towards the goal of decarbonizing the transportation sector, the reality is that internal combustion engines will be in use for decades to come. Therefore, improving fuel quality through high-octane, low-carbon biofuel blend fuels is a pragmatic climate action solution we should not overlook.

One area of the president’s plan requiring a closer look is its proposal to extend federal protection to 30 percent of U.S. lands by 2030, a well-meaning, but potentially oversimplistic approach that could work at cross purposes with other important public and private sector conservation programs. Preserving land does not necessarily mean conserving it or enabling it to remain a tool in the climate-change toolbox so the full suite of goods and ecosystem services that well managed farms, ranches and forests can produce are realized.

Informed by decades of experience implementing landscape scale conservation projects on the ground, SfL looks forward to working with the Biden administration and its climate team. As longtime advocates of Climate Smart Agriculture, we pledge to help the White House develop and implement a strong climate strategy that incorporates the powerful attributes and practices of those who sustainably work the land.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.