State’s Climate Plan Forwards Agricultural Strategies, But More Ambitious Goals, Actions Needed

Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 by Brian Shobe

Last year, California adopted ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions targets, seeking to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That reduction is roughly equivalent to cutting per capita emissions in half by the year 2030. To get there, the state is developing a Scoping Plan that lays out how the reductions can be achieved through renewable energy development, energy efficiency measures, low carbon transportation and other strategies, including “climate smart agriculture.”

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) released for public comment its most recent update to the state’s Climate Change Scoping Plan last week.

We have come a long way since the 2008 Scoping Plan when agricultural solutions to climate change were largely ignored. We were pleased to see in the current draft Plan that agriculture has gained further recognition for the solutions it may offer in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generating renewable energy and sequestering carbon in soils and woody biomass.

But more can be done. We would like to see the Plan identify more specific and ambitious goals for the agricultural sector, given the urgency of the climate crisis, the well-established science behind many working lands climate strategies, and the multiple economic, environmental, and social benefits of those strategies.

CalCAN has been advocating for a greater focus on the agricultural sector since the initial Scoping Plan was released in 2008. The Plan now includes a specific section dedicated to natural and working lands, including agricultural lands, among the key sectors the Plan addresses. The Plan also takes an integrated systems approach – a positive development – and thus highlights natural and working lands’ relationships with other sectors such as water, waste management, and energy throughout the document.

The plan still lacks specific actions. Importantly, the draft also drops mention of organic agriculture as part of the suite of climate solutions, despite organic agriculture’s inclusion in the 2014 Scoping Plan Update. The plan also does not adequately address research or technical assistance needs to support agricultural strategies to address climate change. This is even more pressing as we face likely federal budget cuts to climate change and agriculture research and agricultural technical assistance.

Governor Brown recently called for courage, creativity and boldness when it comes to our work on climate change – the existential threat of our time. We agree and call on CARB and sister agencies to dig deeper when considering agricultural solutions to climate change.

Below, we provide highlights on the Scoping Plan strategies for agriculture.  You can find the complete list here.

Protecting Natural and Working Lands

  • Improve farmland conservation efforts, especially of those lands at risk of development. Support local planning processes that avoid agricultural land development.
  • Promote the adoption of regional transportation and development plans that prioritize urban infill and compact development and also consider the climate change impacts of land use and management.

Enhancing Resilience

  • Enhance the resilience of and potential for carbon sequestration in agriculture and natural and working lands, generally, through management and restoration, and reduce GHG and black carbon emissions from wildfire and management activities.
  • Engage local communities and private and public landowners to implement best practices for carbon sequestration by undertaking actions that reduce on-farm GHG emissions, improve soil and biomass carbon sequestration, restore wetlands and other natural systems, or reduce the risk of wildfire. Support implementation with technical assistance.

Innovating Biomass Utilization

  • Innovate biomass utilization and develop a holistic interagency plan by 2019 such that harvested wood and excess agricultural and forest biomass can be used to advance statewide objectives for renewable energy and fuels, agricultural markets, and soil health. The State must develop targeted policies or incentives to support durable markets for all of this material.

Reducing GHGs in Agriculture

  • Employ ready-to-implement voluntary practices, such as increasing the efficiency of on-farm water and energy use, managing manure in dairies, and agricultural practices that increase net carbon sequestration and reduce GHG emissions across diverse agricultural systems.
  • Implement a Healthy Soils Program to incentivize a variety of practices that are known to sequester carbon and provide ecosystem services.
  • Continue to support research to understand soil emission factors and sequestration potential.
  • Support research and development for non-digester dairy manure methane mitigation options including scrape, solids separation, conversion to pasture-based systems, and other technologies.
  • Further the development of quantification tools (Comet-Farm, Comet- Planner, and others) and monitoring tools (aerial imagery, sampling, etc.) for agriculture to understand trends in practices.
  • Utilizing existing reporting mechanisms, identify metrics to evaluate reductions in nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing materials on agricultural lands.
  • Increase the number of farms generating on-farm renewable energy (solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, etc.)

Scoping and Tracking Progress

  • Complete and continue to refine CARB’s Natural and Working Lands inventory based on input from other State agencies, stakeholders, and academic experts. Complete a standardized accounting framework for forests and other lands by 2018.
  • Incorporate a variety of cropland types, agricultural management practices, and bundling of those practices into carbon accounting models to assess the potential for carbon sequestration.
  • Develop and implement a Healthy Soils Action Plan.


Setting Specific, Measurable and Ambitious Goals

The Natural Resources Agency is supporting the Scoping Plan effort by contracting with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to do scenario modeling of carbon sequestration in natural and working lands.  However, that analysis will not be complete before the Scoping Plan is finalized later this spring.

CalCAN has been tracking the development of that modeling effort and making suggestions for how to improve it. We agree with the Plan’s analysis that, “Even absent any quantification data, the large potential role for this sector in achieving the state’s climate goals should be considered in conjunction with any efforts to reduce GHG emissions in the energy and industrial sectors.”

Regardless of the status of its natural and working lands model, we think the Scoping Plan could be more explicit and ambitious in its goals and actions. The specific acreage goals the Plan includes (in Appendix G) for farmland conservation and the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices fall far short of what the state – with programs like the Healthy Soils Initiative, SWEEP, and SALC already in place –  and farmers – eager to adapt to climate change, improve water retention, and increase yields – could practically achieve in the next 14 years.

We suggest more ambitious targets: 800,000 acres of farmland using healthy soils practices, 75% reduction in farmland conversion rates, and doubling the number of farms using on-farm renewable energy – all by 2030. For more on this, you can read the comment letter we sent to CARB for an earlier draft of the Scoping Plan.

CARB invites public comment on the Scoping Plan. The deadline to submit comments is March 6, 2017 at 5:00PM. You can submit or view comments here:

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