California Looks to Dig Deeper on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2030 Targets Considered

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 4.14.34 PMGovernor Jerry Brown dropped by unannounced to a recent public workshop in Sacramento, where he gave a forceful speech on the enormity of the climate challenge and the collective willpower needed to address it.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and partner agencies, including CDFA, were discussing a draft vision for how the state plans to achieve the Governor’s goal of cutting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This updated ‘Scoping Plan’ document will provide a roadmap for California to follow as we progress toward this ambitious goal.

Governor Brown highlighted the scale and the immediacy of the task at hand. He stressed that there are multiple solutions to climate change that require new forms of cooperation and “heroic” efforts to achieve.

“California is one of the most important places in the whole world where steps are being taken [on climate change],” he said, “and they’re being taken based on clarity, science, engineering, and regulatory sophistication.”

CalCAN supports the Governor’s words around collaboration and timely action. Fortunately, as evidenced at the workshop, there are encouraging signs that California is up to the challenge.

Emissions Reduction Roadmap

The public workshop focused on how the state can reach the 2030 emission reduction targets. Agriculture was explicitly discussed within the Natural and Working Lands sector, with presentations by representatives from CDFA, the Natural Resources Agency, and the Office of Planning and Research.

While the workshop was mostly an overview, we were pleased to see that discussions around agriculture have continued to evolve since the early days of implementation of the state’s climate change law, AB 32. Most notably, agency staff emphasized agricultural land conservation strategies (e.g. conservation easements and land use policy to support farmland conservation) that avoid emissions as well as provide carbon sequestration opportunities. These types of efforts were seen as integral to the overarching objective of this sector to create a resilient ‘carbon bank’.

Staff also emphasized healthy soils strategies on farms and ranches, with considerable acknowledgement of the value of soil organic matter, soil fertility, and soil’s ability to sequester carbon. Compost applications, conservation tillage, and cover crops were all discussed as viable management practices, signaling a broader recognition of techniques beyond the previous Scoping Plan’s sole mention of reduced tillage practices.

CalCAN encourages CARB to support low-input, biologically diverse farming practices that offer climate solutions by highlighting them in the 2030 Target Scoping Plan. CARB should also ensure there is adequate support for research, technical assistance, outreach and incentives to make them feasible in the field.

An Important Sector

Agriculture seems poised to play a significantly expanded role in reaching the 2030 climate goals, as CARB seeks to grow the state’s efforts on biogas and biofuels production, as well as ramp up the diversion of organic wastes to compost and other soil amendments.

In doing so, we caution CARB to not overly narrow its focus on biofuels, as efforts to promote sustainable agricultural practices and soil health can produce multiple co-benefits, including better air and water quality, increased energy and water efficiency, and improved wildlife habitat. Also, as the state experiences the inevitable changes to our environment from warming temperatures, and with it changes in the crops that can be grown in various regions, we must grapple with limited land and the trade-offs of agricultural land for food production versus biofuels production.

At the workshop, agency representatives expressed the necessity of providing clear guidance on how to quantify changes in sequestration rates for different activities on natural and working lands, but no specifics were provided as to how this will be accomplished. Proper methodologies for GHG accounting in these sectors is a crucial research gap that will need to be addressed. With the focus on carbon sequestration, there was no discussion as to whether the state will be setting emissions reduction targets for agriculture and the other natural and working lands sectors.

Public Comment

Comments from stakeholders were primarily from forest, compost/waste, and land conservation perspectives. There was a strong consensus that the Natural and Working Lands sector needs meaningful targets and measurable goals similar to the other sectors.

Stakeholders also asked CARB to take advantage of pre-existing entities and resources to help educate and implement practices within communities. This is a position CalCAN has taken before, encouraging the use of organizations already poised to provide research and technical assistance for growers, such as UC Cooperative Extension and Resource Conservation Districts.

Near the end of the workshop, CARB introduced an economic analysis model that it will use to evaluate the best economic option for achieving 2030 targets. The model inputs will rely on technology pathways and carbon pricing variables.

Natural and Working Lands stakeholders expressed concern that the benefits of carbon sequestration and other qualities unique to biological systems would not fit within this type of economic modeling. It is clear that a full and fair accounting of carbon fluxes in complex biological systems, including in agricultural soils and vegetation, will be necessary to ensure that the solutions these sectors can provide receive the funding and attention they deserve.

A draft of the 2030 Target Scoping Plan is scheduled to be released Spring 2016.

Beth Smoker is CalCAN’s Fall 2015 Policy Intern.

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