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Natural Climate Solutions: What we Know, How We Know It & What's Next?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report finds that agriculture, forestry, and lands are critical to reaching global net-zero emissions. Strategies for increasing the quantity of carbon stored in plants, trees, and soils, and reducing emissions from agriculture and forestry—known as “natural climate solutions”—must be part of the wide portfolio of actions needed to reduce carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere and limit the pace and scale of warming this century. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Farm and Forest Solutions Task Force has identified a comprehensive set of policy recommendations addressing financial, technical assistance, and R&D barriers facing a rapid scale-up of natural climate solutions in the United States. On June 29, 2022, BPC brought together experts in a public virtual event to discuss the task force recommendations and possibilities for expanding support for natural climate solutions in the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. Provided here is a brief recap of that event.

Callie Eideberg, senior professional staff on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and former member of BPC’s task force, underlined the immense significance of the Farm Bill’s reauthorization every five years, a process which allows Congress to extend, modify, or suspend any federal agriculture/forestry and food-related policies. Two important climate related programs routinely authorized in the bill are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, both of which help farmers undertake projects to improve environmental quality on their land. Eideberg explained that the upcoming Farm Bill is unlikely to increase funding for agriculture and forestry compared to the previous Farm Bill, so it will be up to Congress to maximize the impact of existing funding.

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Dr. LaKisha Odom, scientific program director at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and participant in BPC’s technical advisor panel, highlighted opportunities in the Farm Bill to advance soil health research beyond the current focus on row crops. FFAR connects funders with researchers and farmers to expand agriculture technology and innovation and provides funding for research on production systems that use range and pastureland. FFAR partners with The Nature Conservancy, PepsiCo, McDonald’s and others to provide matching funding to their network of farmers and ranchers. Dr. Odom pointed out that established connections with research partners in the private sector will be crucially important given the uncertainty in federal funding for agricultural innovation.

Bob Izlar, founding director (retired) of the University of Georgia’s Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business and member of BPC’s task force, stressed the urgent need for expanded nursery capacity to meet the growing demand for seedlings to plant in reforestation projects. Izlar also pointed to the longstanding Georgia Carbon Sequestration Registration as one example of how rural forestry and agriculture communities can benefit from carbon sequestration on their land, and how the impact of this and similar efforts could be strengthened by the existence of a transparent carbon market.

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