CARB’s Scoping Plan Should Reflect the Full Potential of Agriculture in Addressing Climate Change

Posted on Friday, July 1st, 2022 by Anna Larson
Picture from USDA

CARB’s Scoping Plan Should Reflect the Full Potential of Agriculture in Addressing Climate Change 

This year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is developing its 4th Scoping Plan update. Every five years, CARB is required to evaluate and plan for how California will achieve its climate goals. The 2022 Draft Scoping Plan Update, released this May, marked the plan that looks at how the state will achieve carbon neutrality and the first time that Natural and Working Lands sector was robustly considered. Despite this, the draft climate roadmap from CARB lacks ambition and clear direction on natural and working lands climate strategies. CalCAN recently weighed in on the draft plan. You can find our comment here

Climate Solutions from our Farms, Forests, Wetlands, Urban Forestry and More

Natural and working lands can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reductions through two pathways: 1) by serving as a carbon sink through sequestration, and 2) through reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural and working lands, such as those caused by wildfire or synthetic fertilizer application. To evaluate the contribution of natural and working lands (including agriculture) to carbon sequestration, CARB modeled four possible climate strategies or scenarios and considered their cost-effectiveness, health benefits, equity impacts, and technological feasibility. 

However, the scenarios modeled to inform the policy pathways in the draft Scoping Plan for natural and working lands were flawed from the very beginning, resulting in modeling that does not adequately inform the state’s understanding of the potential role of natural and working lands to sequester carbon and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the “baseline” Reference Scenario to which CARB compared their other scenarios assumed that no healthy soils or other climate-smart agriculture practices occurred in the state over the period 2001 to 2014, even though the state had significant organic agriculture and conservation agriculture acreage at that time. Additionally, the Scoping Plan did not adequately consider greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies for natural and working lands, such as the reduction in nitrous oxide emissions associated with healthy soils practices.

Additionally, the draft Plan did not separate out the impacts of different management strategies in their modeling, such as farmland conservation vs. organic agriculture. This omission makes it challenging to evaluate the cost-effectiveness, health benefits, equity impacts, and technological feasibility of each management approach. The Proposed Scenario should individually consider each strategy and include the best case scenarios for each landscape type wherever possible.

Greater Ambition, New Modeling Needed

CalCAN joined a coalition of natural and working land advocates to call on CARB to consider natural and working lands not only as carbon sinks, but as ecosystems that provide key services and need sustained investment and action. To do so, CARB should integrate California’s 30×30 goal, Extreme Heat Action Plan and NWL Climate Smart Strategy into the Scoping Plan’s strategies and modeling. 

Overall, CARB’s proposed scenario lacks ambition, only providing resources to 10% of California’s croplands for healthy soils practices,  setting a low target of 20% of agricultural acres converted to organic by 2045, and potentially allowing up to 700,000 acres of cropland to be lost to urban conversion and non-agricultural development by 2045. These targets do not reflect the scale of the crisis or the availability of existing strategies. At the CARB Board meeting on June 23-24th, board members (who will vote on the final Scoping Plan) raised concerns about the low organic agriculture target and the lack of strategies around the reduction of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. CARB Board members asked that CARB staff consider pesticide impacts in their health analysis.

The Scoping Plan needs measurable outcomes, lead agencies, and policy pathways to be impactful. CalCAN has requested that CARB increase the ambition of the NWL scenarios and re-do some of its modeling this summer to better inform the final Scoping Plan. Additionally, CalCAN and a coalition of healthy soils advocates have outlined a vision for carbon neutral agriculture by 2030 to inform the revised Scoping Plan here.

CARB will revise the draft Scoping Plan based on public comment and CARB Board feedback for their final draft in the fall of 2022, which will be reviewed and voted on by the CARB Board in the winter of 2022. Have questions about the Scoping Plan Update?  Feel free to drop us a line:

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