Analysis: The role of agricultural and forestlands in combating climate change

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

In these two reports, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington stresses the important role that America’s farms and forestlands can play in reducing the threat of global warming.

The Pew Center reports showcase the unique position of the agriculture and forestry sectors both as sources of greenhouse-gas emissions and as “sinks” that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The reports also stress that the US needs to bolster existing programs and develop new ones in order to capitalise on the potential of these sectors to contribute to climate solutions.

The first report, ‘Agriculture’s Role in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,’ makes 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 and changes in economic conditions, technologies and policies will be key factors that will affect farmers’ willingness to play a part in climate solutions.

The second 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 including: 

  •  Changing practices on public lands;
  •  Land use regulations for privately owned forestlands, and; 
  • Incentives designed to promote climate-friendly practices on agricultural lands.

The reports conclude that changes in agricultural practices coupled with foresting marginal agricultural lands could offset up to one fifth of current US greenhouse-gas emissions, while at the same time creating potential new sources of farming income.  In addition, the nation could reduce emissions by 10-25% by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels made from agricultural crops. 

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center, said that “We have always known that America’s farms and forests could play an important part in reducing the risks of climate change, 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.”

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