CalCAN Weighs in on Future Direction of State Climate Change Law

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The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is responsible for implementing the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). Under AB 32, every 5 years CARB must update its Scoping Plan, which lays out all the measures the state is pursuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The original 2008 Scoping Plan featured little of substance pertaining to the agricultural sector. As a result, CARB’s actions under AB 32 have failed to move the needle much at all when it comes to agricultural solutions to the climate change problem.

Earlier this year, CalCAN submitted comments to CARB requesting that the Scoping Plan update adequately address agriculture’s multiple climate benefits. We noted that there is far more research and data on this issue now than in 2008, and that the Plan update should reflect this.

The discussion draft released in early October makes some strides in this direction, but as we note in our comments submitted November 1st, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Here are the major ways in which we hope to see CARB improve its Scoping Plan, along with some brief background:

  • Address whole farm systems, rather than  ‘management categories’. The draft Plan proposes to view greenhouse gas emissions reductions in agriculture through separate management categories (e.g. water use, fertilizer use, manure management). However, this approach ignores the fact that biological systems (i.e. agricultural systems) do not operate like industrial systems that can be compartmentalized and addressed separately. Instead, biological systems are integrated, and changes in one area of the system can influence changes in another area of the system. CalCAN recommends that ARB take a whole farm systems approach when considering greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.
  • Identify and develop funding sources for research, technical assistance, and financial incentives. We know from our experience with national agricultural conservation programs that the potent combination of grower technical assistance and financial incentives to offset producer risks (e.g. lower crop yields) can help transform practices in agriculture and bring about significant change. The wildlife habitat farming practices in the rice industry, the significant expansion of organic farming operations in the state and the many miles of hedgerows plantings for pollinator habitat are just a few successful examples. We can do the same to promote and expand climate-friendly agricultural systems that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, support biological diversity, reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, produce renewable energy and increase water and energy use efficiency.  But we cannot do that without a coordinated state effort aimed at supporting sustainable farming systems in the state.  One obvious place for funding such an effort is the cap-and-trade auction proceeds.
  • Tout the climate benefits of farmland conservation and avoided development. As CalCAN has written in our Triple Harvest report, farmland conservation is a crucial strategy to avoid significant emissions. The Scoping Plan should support conservation actions under the Williamson Act subvention program and initiatives within the Department of Conservation, as well as strengthen efforts to include farmland and open space conservation efforts as part of the Sustainable Communities Strategies under SB 375.
  • Bolster California farmers’ leadership in renewable energy. Although California farmers and ranchers produce more on-farm renewable energy than their counterparts in any other state, barriers still remain. CARB should view small-scale on-farm renewable energy from diverse sources as a key part of the distributed energy future they promote. CARB should also acknowledge the land-use conflicts brought on by some larger-scale solar developments on agricultural land.

The next draft of the Scoping Plan will be released in December, and brought before the Board for approval in Spring 2014. We, along with our partners, will continue to advocate for the greater inclusion in this document of sustainable agricultural solutions.

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