America's farms and forestlands have a major role to play in reducing the threat of climate change, according to two reports released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Changes in agricultural practices coupled with foresting marginal agricultural lands could offset up to one fifth of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time creating potential new sources of farming income. In addition, the nation could reduce emissions by 10 to 25 percent by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels made from agricultural crops. The two reports being released today are: Agriculture's Role in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation by Keith Paustian, John M. Antle, John Sheehan, and Eldor A. Paul, and Agricultural and Forestlands: U.S. Carbon Policy Strategies by Kenneth R. Richards, R. Neil Sampson, and Sandra Brown.
The Pew Center reports showcase the unique position of the agriculture and forestry sectors both as sources of greenhouse gas emissions (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and as “sinks” that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The reports also stress that we need to bolster existing programs and develop new ones in order to capitalize on the opportunity to contribute to climate solutions inherent in these two sectors.
“Climate change is the major environmental challenge of our time. In order to address it in the most cost-effective way, we must take advantage of the full range of solutions—and that means rethinking how we manage our forests and farmlands,” said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
In Agriculture's Role in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation, the authors make the case for “suitable payments” to encourage farmers to adopt new management practices to store carbon in agricultural soils and reduce agricultural emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. Policy incentives also are needed, the authors say, to reduce costs of producing biofuels and accelerate key technologies. The report notes that climate mitigation could potentially become a source of new income and cost reductions for farmers. However, access to financing, changes in economic conditions and technologies, and policies will be key factors that will affect farmers' willingness to play a part in climate solutions.
The second Pew Center report, Agricultural and Forestlands: U.S. Carbon Policy Strategies, considers a range of policy approaches that would ensure a prominent role for U.S. agricultural and forestlands in national climate mitigation plans. Among the potential policies: changing practices on public lands; land use regulations for privately owned forestlands; and incentives designed to promote climate-friendly practices on agricultural lands.
“We have always known that America's farms and forests could play an important part in reducing the risks of climate change,” said Claussen. “But these sectors aren't going to do this on their own—policymakers need to create the framework for these solutions through vigorous incentives and other policies.”
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions site.