SOIL CARBON AND CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS
From Kansas State University's:
Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases (CASMGS)
Charles W. Rice, K-State Department of Agronomy, National CASMGS Director
(785) 532-7217 email@example.com
Scott Staggenborg, K-State Department of Agronomy (785) 532-7214 firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Watson, CASMGS Communications (785) 532-7105 email@example.com
June 25, 2009
* Carbon sequestration on land converted from rainforest to cropland in Brazil
* Key climate indicators show alarming trend
* Climate change already having impact in U.S.
* Agriculture’s Input on Waxman/Markey Climate Change Legislation
* EPA Indicates willingness to collaborate with USDA in GHG offset program
carbon sequestration on land converted from
rainforest to cropland in brazil
The introduction of crop management practices after conversion of Amazon Cerrado into cropland influences soil C stocks and has direct and indirect consequences on greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. The aim of this study by J.L.N. Carvalho and associates at the Universidade de São Paulo, in São Paulo, Brazil (published in the May 2009 issue of Soil and Tillage Research) was to quantify soil C sequestration, through the evaluation of the changes in C stocks, as well as the GHG fluxes (N2O and CH4) during the process of conversion of Cerrado into agricultural land in the southwestern Amazon region, comparing no-tillage and conventional tillage systems.
We collected samples from soils and made gas flux measurements in July 2004 (the dry season) and in January 2005 (the wet season) at six areas: Cerrado, conventional tillage cultivated with rice for 1 year and 2 years and no-tillage cultivated with soybean for 1 year, 2 years, and 3 years, in each case after a 2-year period of rice under conventional tillage. Soil samples were analyzed in both seasons for total organic C and bulk density.
The soil C stocks, corrected for a mass of soil equivalent to the 0–30-cm layer under Cerrado, indicated that soils under no-tillage had generally higher C storage compared to native Cerrado and conventional tillage soils. The annual C accumulation rate in the conversion of rice under conventional tillage into soybean under no-tillage was 0.38 Mg ha−1 year−1.
Although CO2 emissions were not used in the C sequestration estimates to avoid double counting, we did include the fluxes of this gas in our discussion. In the wet season, CO2 emissions were twice as high as in the dry season and the highest N2O emissions occurred under the no-tillage system. There were no CH4 emissions to the atmosphere (negative fluxes) and there were no significant seasonal variations. When N2O and CH4 emissions in C-equivalent were subtracted (assuming that the measurements made on 4 days were representative of the whole year), the soil C sequestration rate of the conversion of rice under conventional tillage into soybean under no-tillage was 0.23 Mg ha−1 year−1.
Although there were positive soil C sequestration rates, our results do not present data regarding the full C balance in soil management changes in the Amazon Cerrado.
-- Soil and Tillage Research, May 2009, Volume 103, Issue 2, pg 342-349
Key climate indicators
show alarming trend
Key climate indicators such as global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise and extreme climatic events are already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which contemporary society and economy have developed. This is one of the key messages of a report presented by leading scientists in Brussels June 18, 2009 in preparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
The report has six key messages:
Key Message 1: Climatic Trends
Recent observations show that greenhouse gas emissions and many aspects of the climate are changing near the upper boundary of the IPCC range of projections. Many key climate indicators are already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which contemporary society and economy have developed and thrived. These indicators include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, global ocean temperature, Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. With unabated emissions, many trends in climate will likely accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.
Key Message 2: Social and environmental disruption
The research community provides much information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities, ecosystem services and biodiversity particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2°C will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.
Key Message 3: Long-term strategy – Global Targets and Timetables
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of serious impacts, including the crossing of tipping points, and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult and costly. Setting a credible long-term price for carbon and the adoption of policies that promote energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies are central to effective mitigation.
Key Message 4: Equity Dimensions
Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and equitable mitigation strategies are needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable. Tackling climate change should be seen as integral to the broader goals of enhancing socioeconomic development and equity throughout the world.
Key Message 5: Inaction is inexcusable
Society already has many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioral, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not vigorously and widely implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the societal transformation required to decarbonize economies will not be achieved. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to achieve effective and rapid adaptation and mitigation. These include job growth in the sustainable energy sector; reductions in the health, social, economic and environmental costs of climate change; and the repair of ecosystems and revitalization of ecosystem services.
Key Message 6: Meeting the Challenge
If the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge is to be achieved, then a number of significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; reducing activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce resilience (e.g. subsidies); and enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society. Linking climate change with broader sustainable consumption and production concerns, human rights issues and democratic values is crucial for shifting societies towards more sustainable development pathways.
A complete list of abstracts for the scientific presentations at the Copenhagen congress “Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions” can be found at:
-- ScienceDaily, June 18, 2009
Climate change already
having impact in U.S.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released a report on June 17 explaining how climate change is already having an impact in the U.S.
Hotter temperatures, an increase in heavy rain events, and rising sea levels are among the effects of “unequivocal” warming, concludes the report. Winters are now shorter and warmer than they were 30 years ago, with the largest temperature rise -- more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit -- observed in the Midwest and northern Great Plains.
The report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” confirms previous evidence that global temperature increases in recent decades have been primarily human-induced, incorporates the latest information on rising temperatures and sea levels; increases in extreme weather events; and other climate-related phenomena. The study also finds that the current trend in the emission of greenhouse gas pollution is significantly above the worst-case scenario that this and other reports have considered.
Among the main findings are:
* Heat waves will become more frequent and intense, increasing threats to human health and quality of life. Extreme heat will also affect transportation and energy systems, and crop and livestock production.
* Increased heavy downpours will lead to more flooding, waterborne diseases, negative effects on agriculture, and disruptions to energy, water, and transportation systems.
* Reduced summer runoff and increasing water demands will create greater competition for water supplies in some regions, especially in the West.
* Rising water temperatures and ocean acidification threaten coral reefs and the rich ecosystems they support. These and other climate-related impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems will have major implications for tourism and fisheries.
* Insect infestations and wildfires are already increasing and are projected to increase further in a warming climate.
The full report is available at: http://www.globalchange.gov/usimpacts
Agriculture’s Input on Waxman/Markey
Climate Change Legislation
The Waxman/Markey House bill on climate change (H.R. 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), which would establish a cap-and-trade system in the U.S. for greenhouse gases, is now being debated by various committees in both the U.S, House and Senate. Many agricultural interests are weighing in on this bill, attempting to influence its final language. The focus of this effort currently in the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, which is currently holding public hearings on the pending climate change legislation.
On June 11, the full House Committee on Agriculture heard from several agricultural representatives on this legislation. The following is a summary of each statement presented at the hearing:
American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF): Bob Stallman
Statement summary: AFBF is very concerned about the broad potential adverse impacts of the proposed cap-and-trade legislation on agriculture. Even though some say agriculture will benefit, that will depend to a great degree on where the producer is located, what he or she grows, and how his or her business model can take advantage of any provisions in the legislation. Not every dairy farmer can afford to capture methane – it is a capital intensive endeavor. Not every farmer lives in a region where wind turbines are an option. Not every farmer can take advantage of no-till. Not every farmer has the land to set aside to plant trees.
Yet, every farmer has production costs to meet. Nearly all farmers rely on fertilizer. We all drive tractors. We know our costs will rise. And frankly, we are very concerned about the impact of this legislation on our livelihood.
Agriculture will incur higher fuel, fertilizer and energy costs as a result of this legislation. In addition, agriculture and forestry have a very important and unique role with regard to the development and implementation of any climate change and energy policy. Neither of these factors has been considered in the current bill.
We identify below areas where the bill is deficient, and how this committee might address those deficiencies.
1. Legislation should ensure that farmers and ranchers are not put at a competitive disadvantage in international trade. The increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs that will result from H.R. 2454 will greatly impact the relationship of American producers with the rest of the world.
2. Any cap and trade legislation must recognize the important role that agriculture can play in carbon reduction schemes. There are a number of identified agricultural and livestock practices that have been proven to reduce or sequester GHG. These range from conservation tillage, forest management, nutrition management, even afforestation. Climate policy should allow farmers and ranchers to adopt these practices to provide offset credits to capped entities. Adoption of these practices also provides other environmental benefits besides carbon reduction or sequestration. These other benefits may include reduced soil erosion, improved wildlife habitat, or increased water quality, to name a few. H.R. 2454 is totally deficient in this regard. The bill should: (a) specifically include the full range of agricultural GHG reduction or sequestration projects as eligible offsets, (b) give the USDA the primary role in administering agricultural offsets and other carbon reduction or sequestration projects, and (c) allow early adopters to participate in an offsets program.
3. Offsets do not shield producers from adverse impacts of this legislation.
Other concerns: A number of agricultural sectors will not benefit from offsets. Most fruit and vegetable producers will not qualify for offsets. Western ranchers whose operations are heavily dependent on the use of federal lands for livestock forage also have very limited offset opportunities. Many areas of the West in general that are coal-dependent are also the areas that have limited offset opportunities. Not all areas of the country are able to productively adopt conservation tillage practices, thus restricting their offset possibilities. Yet, these producers will incur the same increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs as their counterparts.
Also, revenue from offsets will only defray a portion of the increased input costs resulting from this bill. As the price of carbon and offsets rise, producer input costs will rise as well. This does not even account for the adverse effects on competition or offset transaction costs that will result from this bill.
AFBF has long been a proponent of renewable fuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). We believe biofuels are key components to increase our nation’s energy security. AFBF has strong concerns with the notice of proposed rulemaking offered by EPA related to biofuels. Our members have serious concerns about the terms “indirect land use change” and “lifecycle carbon emissions” and how these concepts would be measured and implemented.
The Fertilizer Institute: Ford B. West
Statement summary: Farmers can play a very important role in the reduction of emissions related to climate change. Best management practices including low-till and no-till farming, as well as farmers' use of the right fertilizer product, at the right rate, right time, and right place, all contribute to increasing the carbon content of soils, reducing erosion, boosting crop yields, and significantly reducing GHG emissions.
For the domestic fertilizer industry to remain competitive, while operating under the proposed cap-and-trade policy, the industry will need to achieve even greater efficiencies, which is problematic due to the fact that there will be a time when the industry’s efficiency gains will eventually be limited.
Adding to this problem is the potential for the proposed legislation to encourage a number of utilities to turn to natural gas as an alternative for generating electricity, which may drive up the price of that commodity. Natural gas is a feedstock that is required for the production of nitrogen fertilizers and the U.S. nitrogen industry has already been impacted by challenges associated with rising natural gas prices.
Since 2000, the U.S. nitrogen industry has closed 26 nitrogen fertilizer production facilities, due primarily to the high cost of natural gas. The fertilizer industry has grave concerns that its remaining domestic nitrogen production cannot stay operational through any transition period of a cap-and-trade system where utilities switch to natural gas and fertilizer producers are forced to buy emission credits on the open market.
As a result, the proposed climate change bill could place the domestic fertilizer industry at a competitive disadvantage compared to global fertilizer producers who are not operating under a cap-and-trade system and who have access to plentiful supplies of cheap natural gas. This could force the domestic fertilizer industry overseas to countries that have no carbon reduction policies in place. Congress must tread cautiously and consider the fact that without dramatic changes, the current climate change bill will render the U.S. nitrogen industry uncompetitive and result in a loss for the economy and for the cause of reducing CO2 emissions.
First Environment: Steve Ruddell
Statement summary: First Environment is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited verification company that conducts greenhouse gas and offset project verifications for voluntary market programs like The Climate Registry, the Voluntary Carbon Standard, and the Chicago Climate Exchange.
Regarding the role of forests in mitigating climate change, a primary goal in a U.S. climate bill should be to keep our forests as forests. U.S. climate legislation must support polices and programs that provide incentives for private landowners to:
1) manage their lands for increasing carbon sequestration and storage,
2) avoid conversion to other land uses,
3) encourage sustainable forestry practices that have transformed public and private forestry in the US, and
4) support the complementary relationships between forest carbon offset markets and the provision of forest ecosystem services.
While forests have tremendous potential to sequester carbon, this can only be tapped if the rules for their participation in these markets are workable. In the current form of the proposed legislation, there is a tremendous lack of clarity in how the EPA might interpret the legislation, and there is no clear recognition that EPA will even develop the opportunity for forests to play in offset markets. This must be improved to give the needed market signals and reassurance that forests will be part of any emission reduction scheme and that the rules will be workable.
National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD): Earl Garber
Statement summary: NACD believes that soil carbon sequestration offers one of the better near-term, readily-available, emissions reductions technologies available to society now and can offer income generation to farmers and land managers while providing cost-containment to cap-and-trade policies. We recognize that a carbon offset program must be correctly structured and managed to allow for agriculture producer and forest landowner participation.
USDA should have a primary, leadership role in establishing agriculture and forestry offsets technology and policy. USDA has the field expertise and research capabilities to determine proper sequestration methods and establish appropriate standards for carbon offsets. NRCS worked with the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) in setting up the pilot agricultural carbon offset program and provided the standards for BMP’s that also sequester carbon. Today, verifiers under that system utilize NRCS practice standards in performing verification. We encourage continuation of this model under any climate legislation.
It is very important that Congress not overlook the important for work that has already been undertaken and does not take actions to adversely impact ongoing conservation activities. Early actors that have undertaken soil carbon sequestration, methane capture, etc., must be recognized in any climate legislation. Those participating under voluntary carbon trading programs such as the CCX, must be included in any offset program developed under climate legislation.
Producers and forest landowners who might not be able to participate due to economies of scale should also have an opportunity for participate in a supplemental carbon sequestration program. A supplemental incentives program, funded through allowance awards and run by USDA, will reach beyond what can be accomplished through offset markets.
Climate legislation should include dedicated allowances to support supplemental incentives for U.S. agriculture and forest producers unable to participate in offset markets. This type of program would allow USDA to provide incentives, with payment according to the acreage upon which a given practice is employed and the estimated carbon value of each practice. These incentives should also be used to help fund agreements to avoid conversion of agricultural land and forests.
Continuing research into adaptation techniques and practices for agriculture must be included in climate legislation.
National Corn Growers Association (NCGA): Fred Yoder
Statement summary: NCGA has identified several priorities which are critical elements to the agricultural sector within cap-and-trade legislation. Unfortunately, very few of these priorities have been addressed by H.R. 2454 as reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
1. NCGA commends the authors of the legislation for not subjecting the agricultural sector to an emissions cap. We urge Congress to maintain this exemption as the legislation makes its way through the House and Senate.
2. Congress should fully recognize the wide range of carbon mitigation or sequestration benefits that agriculture can provide. This could include sequestration of carbon on agricultural lands, reduction of emissions from livestock through dietary improvements and manure management, introduction of nitrogen and other fertilizer efficiency technologies and a variety of other practices.
3. Congress should structure a cap-and-trade system that delivers an offsets program where the value exceeds the cost to farmers and ranchers. H.R. 2454 currently falls short of this goal since there is little assurance in the legislation that agriculture offsets will be eligible for participation in a trading market.
4. It is important to provide an initial list of project types that are considered eligible agricultural offsets. Although the House Energy and Commerce Committee provided a list of project types in report language, there are no statutory provisions in H.R. 2454 which would require the development of protocols and standards for agricultural offsets.
5. USDA should play a prominent role in developing standards and administering the program for agricultural offsets.
6. An important component of creating a successful cap-and-trade system is ensuring that domestic offsets are not artificially limited. The goal should be to remove as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as possible. Artificial caps could prevent legitimate carbon sequestration, livestock methane capture, and manure gasification projects from occurring.
7. USDA should establish measurement rates for various offset practices at the national or regional level. NCGA believes in a standards-based approach rather than a project-based approach for measuring offsets. Real, verifiable credits can be achieved without direct measurement of each individual offset project; however, third-party auditing can be employed to ensure the credibility of the system.
8. It is important to emphasize the concept of contract duration rather than a literal definition of “permanence.” The value of the carbon credit would likely have a strong correlation to the length of the contract. For instance, longer contract periods imply more risk for the seller and should result in a higher price.
9. NCGA feels strongly that agricultural practices commenced on or after January 1, 1991, should be considered additional and contributory to meeting the goals of the treaty. We are not recommending credits for carbon sequestration that occurred between 1991 and 2009. However, it is imperative that growers who initiated GHG mitigation practices during that timeframe not be prohibited from participating in a carbon offset market in the future. The House Energy and Commerce Committee acknowledged this issue by including language that gives the EPA Administrator discretion for moving the early actors dates back to 2001; however, we believe that language referencing 1991 more accurately reflects the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. Early actors should not be penalized for being pioneers in the area of no-till or low-till agriculture, or in the use of methane digesters.
10. It is important to note that many practices undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will provide additional public benefits, such as clean water, wildlife habitat, and reduced soil erosion.
National Farmers Union (NFU): Roger Johnson
Statement summary: Although several policy options exist to address climate change, NFU believes the flexibility of a cap-and-trade program holds the most potential for actual GHG emissions reductions while mitigating increased energy costs resulting from such a program. A cap-and-trade system could provide farmers and ranchers the opportunity to be a part of the climate change solution by utilizing soil carbon sequestration and methane capture from certain livestock projects. These projects could be valuable revenue streams for producers who will experience increased agricultural input costs. NFU supports a comprehensive legislative approach to addressing climate change, as opposed to having regulations issued by EPA.
Other main points in the statement:
* NFU strongly believes that the agriculture and forestry sectors should not be subject to an emissions cap as they are too small and diffuse to be directly regulated. Establishing a regulatory scheme to capture emissions from each of the two million farms in the U.S. would be extremely costly and burdensome and would likely fail to yield significant GHG emission reductions.
* A flexible offset program with appropriate financial incentives will accelerate sequestration practices under a cap and trade system. Carbon sequestration projects on agricultural and forestry lands are the easiest and most readily available means of reducing GHG emissions on a meaningful and expedited scale.
* Providing a percentage of overall allowances to the agricultural sector as proposed in the 2008 Lieberman-Warner climate change bill would offer flexibility for agriculture producers to implement activities that provide GHG benefits but may not technically fall within the scope of an offset program.
* In addition to receiving allowances, mechanisms should be established that allow agriculture to generate offset credits by implementing practices to more quickly reduce GHG emissions. Agricultural offsets provide the easiest and most readily available means of reducing GHG emissions on a meaningful scale. Farmers and ranchers, who demonstrate GHG sequestration and/or reduction, should be able to sell credits to regulated entities at a fair market price.
* All existing rules-based and independently verified and registered tons implemented under current programs, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), should be integrated into the federal program to serve several important policy objectives. Specifically, incorporating existing verified and registered tons will prevent potential backsliding and continue to encourage agriculture offset projects while a federal program is being debated, enacted and implemented. The proposed legislation is unsatisfactory in its current form related to this issue.
* Farmers, ranchers and landowners that already have entered into a voluntary, legally-binding contract and adopted certain practices to reduce GHG emissions should be allowed to participate under a federal mandatory cap and trade offset program.
* Legislation should not artificially limit the amount of domestic agricultural project offsets.
* With more than 20 years of targeted climate change research, USDA is well positioned to promulgate the rules and administer the agricultural offset program.
National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF): Ken Nobis
Statement summary: Our organization appreciates the fact that the bill’s authors do not regulate agriculture under the cap‐and‐trade system they propose in the bill. NMPF supports the concept of cap‐and‐trade as long as agriculture is not a cap industry. NMPF offers the following suggestions regarding the proposed climate change legislation:
1. The bill must establish a strong role for USDA. Currently, H.R. 2454 empowers EPA alone to establish, audit and implement all the offsets standards and protocols with no involvement from USDA. This is simply unacceptable.
2. The bill’s requirement for additional “performance standards” must be clarified so that CAFOs are not included in “backdoor” climate regulation. Section 811 of H.R. 2454 tasks EPA to set standards for regulatory compliance measures that would be required of some uncapped sectors. The criteria listed for this section could include some of the larger CAFOs in the livestock industry and would therefore remove these operations from being able to provide offsets and would instead require measures such as digesters to reduce their emissions as part of the performance standard for their category.
3. The bill should shorten the time allowed for setting up offsets program standards. Section 732(a) of the Waxman‐Markey bill creates an offset program via regulation “Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this title.” As written, it is probable that regulations establishing an offset program will not be in place when the cap‐and‐trade system takes effect. Agricultural and forestry offset projects are currently being created across the country and in other countries under voluntary private and State or regional carbon markets.
4. The bill must recognize and reward the avoided emissions efforts undertaken by agricultural leaders to reduce GHG emissions and/or sequester carbon. Significant numbers of agricultural and forestry landowners have already undertaken actions that reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon. These early actors should be eligible for compensation for the on‐going GHG emissions reductions or carbon sequestration that they achieve.
5. The agricultural sector should be provided with an allocation of allowances, or a portion of allowance auction revenues.
6. Offset eligibility and compensation should be based on whether a project, technique, or practice sequesters carbon, or otherwise reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) from a date certain. Use of the Business As Usual (BAU) methodology in the Waxman/Markey bill will limit the amount of GHG emissions reductions or carbon sequestration by agriculture and forestry.
7. It is critical that the United States negotiates quickly a comprehensive implementation of GHG reductions around the world.
Overall, the bill at hand is flawed, but there are opportunities to craft a real market opportunity from it. The alternative could be outright regulation or costly energy and input increases with no way of recovering additional revenue if the agriculture sector as a whole takes a pass on getting involved in this issue.
National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA): Glenn English
Statement summary: Maintaining the affordability of electricity is the principle against which NRECA will judge all climate change and energy legislation. The association has one major objective: keeping electricity bills affordable for all Americans while achieving long-term emissions reductions. There are provisions in the legislation that NRECA believes will increase costs on consumers more than is necessary to achieve the emissions reductions required by the bill. As a result, NRECA is not able to support the bill at this time.
Specifically, NRECA contends that:
1. The legislation’s emission reduction levels and timelines are overly aggressive, particularly in the early years of the program.
2. The bill includes an allowance allocation methodology for the utility sector that protects some consumers (customers of investor-owned utilities) at the expense of other consumers (customers of rural electric cooperatives), due to the method of allocating allowances.
3. Including a provision for offsets is commendable. NRECA recommends that Congress modify the offset provisions so that a domestic offset credit program can be quickly established and implemented. Authority for a domestic offset credit program as part of a national cap-and-trade program should be assigned to USDA in consultation with EPA.
4. NRECA supports efforts to expand the transmission grid to meet the needs of consumers, including the need to deliver renewable resources from remote locations to high-consumption urban load centers.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
Statement summary: A viable carbon offsets market – one that rewards farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for stewardship activities – has the potential to play a very important role in helping America address climate change while also providing a possible new source of revenue for landowners. Allowing agriculture and forests an efficient mechanism to offset the emissions of regulated companies, if properly designed, will help enable lower overall costs for everyone, including those making livings off of the land.
The potential of our working lands to generate greenhouse gas reductions is significant. In fact today, our lands are a net sink of greenhouse gases. Based on the latest statistics from EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, forest and agricultural lands in the U.S. take up more greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide than is released from all of our agricultural operations.
To be effective in addressing climate change, the actions need to be implemented on a scale large enough to matter. The availability of carbon offsets from agriculture and forestry will help contribute to a comprehensive, cost-effective cap and trade program. In order to make a dent in greenhouse gas emissions nationally, we need to think about increasing the rates of continuous conservation tillage and no-till as a component of the overall emissions reduction strategy. We will need to consider planting trees on tens of millions of acres of marginal crop and pasture lands or elsewhere. Farmers across the country will need to adopt advanced nutrient management and manure management systems to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions.
In addition to bringing offsets to scale, we must also ensure that the offsets markets have high standards of environmental integrity to ensure that offsets result in real and measurable greenhouse gas reductions while bolstering efforts to conserve soil, water, and fish and wildlife resources. I believe USDA can work with a wide range of stakeholders to play an important role in working with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in both bringing offsets to scale and ensuring that offsets have environmental integrity. This will ensure, in turn, that land-use offsets fit seamlessly within the overall market-based program. This will mean that USDA and other federal agencies will need to work well together. I am confident that we can do that.
It is important to understand the specific elements that will be needed in a greenhouse gas offset program. These might include procedures to:
* Determine eligible practices;
* Establish metrics for quantifying real and additional greenhouse gas benefits;
* Establish reporting requirements;
* Provide technical assistance to landowners to familiarize them with offsets and how they might participate;
* Ensure that the activities to reduce emissions or increase sequestration have been implemented;
* Provide a repository for reporting and recordkeeping;
* Conduct audits and spot checks;
* Monitor how activities impact ecosystem functions and values;
* Monitor and account for potential losses of carbon that is sequestered; and
* Award offset credits.
The full transcripts of these testimonies can be found at:
-- Steve Watson, CASMGS Communications
EPA Indicates willingness to collaborate
with USDA in GHG offset program
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson said her agency is willing to collaborate with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on an offset program in a future US carbon market.
“At the end of the day, the importance of any carbon offset program is to actually reduce carbon, and I think that there needs to be an important relationship (between USDA and EPA),” Jackson told reporters. Jackson made the remarks as Henry Waxman, the leader of the House of Representatives energy committee, tried to reach a compromise on his climate change bill with Collin Peterson, the chairman of the agriculture committee.
Waxman needs the support of Peterson and congressmen from agricultural states to ensure passage of the Waxman- Markey bill later in June. Those lawmakers have been calling for the bill to give the USDA more oversight over a domestic offset system. If a deal can be worked out between Peterson and Waxman, the bill might be able to get a floor vote before the 4 July recess, the deadline sought by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Jackson noted the USDA has a good relationship with the agricultural community, which better enables the agency to work with farmers and landowners who stand to earn carbon credits from agricultural offset projects.
“The information flow regarding offsets may well best go through them,” she said.
The Waxman-Markey bill would allow up to one billion offset credits generated in the U.S. to be used for compliance annually, and another billion from overseas. As drafted, the bill gives the EPA broad authority to determine what qualifies as a carbon offset that can be used for compliance under a U.S. carbon trading system.
Members of the House agriculture committee from both political parties said at a hearing they wanted the USDA, not the EPA, determining what qualifies as a carbon offset, especially when the project involves sequestering emissions from farming or forestry.
-- Carbon Market North America, June 19, 2009
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