It is totally appropriate for the Biden administration to mark Earth Day with a new ambitious commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 percent by 2030. It is a good starting point as the United States seeks to return to a leadership role in the global effort to stem climate change. Biden’s announcement, set for later today, will be made at a Global Climate Summit the U.S is hosting. The summit will bring together more than 40 leaders from nations around the world and comes on a day in which more than a billion people in 193 nations are participating in events promoting the protection of our planet.
Solutions from the Land (SfL) has long issued its own call for a more active U.S. role in the effort to curb the change in climate that poses a growing threat to our well-being. SfL has spent well more than a decade lifting the role of agriculture in delivering high-value, near-term climate mitigation solutions. We also have promoted adaptation measures and operational practices that improve agriculture’s resilience in meeting the threats posed by the changing climate.
A large part of the SfL effort, whether it be locally, regionally or internationally, has been in support of attaining a broad number of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and marked for achievement by 2030, the SDGs include many that require the direct participation of agriculture – ending hunger, restoring clean water, sustaining life on land and promoting clean energy, among others.
For policy makers to optimize the contributions that agriculture can make in this global effort, they must provide a wide array of enabling policies, like the one envisioned by the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA). The measure was originally introduced last year, but after some modification, has been reintroduced in the Senate this week as a bipartisan measure. It creates a certification program at USDA to help farmers and forestland owners better participate in carbon credit markets. The measure is expected to vastly expand landowner involvement and promote the adoption of practices that help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.
While the GCSA can serve as a helpful program, far more will be needed to optimize the contributions that U.S. agriculture can make to the efforts to contain climate change. For example, we have laid out a number of proposals for Congress, such as suggestions to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and policy recommendations filed in response to questions from the Senate Democrats Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.
The proposals emphasize a number of guiding principles that should be followed as agricultural response strategies to a changing climate are developed. Those include using science-based decision making when promoting climate-smart technologies and practices for sustainable agriculture and global food production. The principles underscore the fact that there is no “silver bullet solution” for enhancing agricultural resilience, noting that solution strategies must embrace a systems-wide approach.
We have called on Congress to increase federal funding for conservation tillage, cover crop and biogas programs administered through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); as well as Environmental Quality Incentives, Conservation Stewardship and Regional Conservation Partnership Programs. Lawmakers should rebuild the capacity of NRCS, state conservation agencies and local conservation districts to provide much needed technical assistance in writing and implementing CSA plans, and restore USDA’s ability to conduct agricultural and economic research in support of CSA. Congress can also provide funding to the nation’s land-grant colleges to expand CSA research and extension work.
We have outlined mechanisms through which farmers can deliver climate mitigation services, such as those envisioned in the Growing Climate Solutions Act introduced this week like carbon dioxide captured by crops, grasses and trees and sequestered in the soil. We also call for provisions that facilitate farmers reducing emissions resulting from improved agricultural management practices.
We have also told lawmakers that they can help the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors avoid and offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emission from fossil fuels by promoting the use of biomass to produce renewable energy, fuels and biobased products.
SfL continues to stand ready and provide policy makers with the farmer-driven recommendations that can optimize the role the agriculture sector can play in addressing climate change. It is, after all, the farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who suffer a large part of the consequences of volatile weather and other growing threats. Those who work the land are also in the best position to provide the tools and practices needed to meet and ameliorate the risks a changing climate can generate.