June 15, 2020 | Climate

Natural Climate Solution Policies For Rural America

A new report from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions examines effective strategies to engage America’s farmers, ranchers and forestry stakeholders who are vital to solving climate change.

Rural Investment: Building a Natural Climate Solutions Policy Agenda that Works for Rural America and the Climate” by Robert Bonnie, Tatjana Vujic, Victoria Plutshack, and Shannon Arata, outlines a menu of policy ideas capable of both garnering the necessary support from rural America and helping the U.S. reach its climate goals through natural climate solutions. “Under any reasonable scenario, meeting aggressive climate goals will require farmers, ranchers, forest owners, and public land management agencies to prioritize climate mitigation across hundreds of millions of acres,” state the authors. “To be successful, the federal government must be prepared to invest billions of dollars in policies to encourage natural climate solutions.”

Natural solutions for agriculture include cover crops, grasslands conservation, nutrient management, reducing livestock methane, and increasing soil carbon — all important strategies to reduce GHGs. For forests, solutions include retaining existing forests (and incentives to make that feasible), reforestation and improved forest management.

The report first examines which agricultural and forestry practices will be most important in reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs). According to the authors’ analysis, “policies that reward only those landowners and producers who can significantly reduce GHGs are likely to fall short in building the coalition of rural Americans necessary to support significant investments in natural climate solutions. To win broader support, federal policy should consider a suite of investments in agriculture and forestry focused not just on GHG mitigation, but on jobs, climate resilience, agricultural and forest productivity, and non-climate environmental benefits such as clean water and others.”

These policies should include the following elements, they add:

  • Rely on market- and incentive-based approaches
  • Allow for collaborative, flexible, local- or state-driven projects
  • Encourage investment of private capital in mitigation and resilience
  • Invest in the people and resources to deliver incentives and technical assistance
  • Encourage sustainable, carbon-beneficial bioenergy in both agriculture and forestry
  • Support research into agricultural and forest productivity and resilience
  • Ensure programs are delivered equitably

The report then examines specific policy options, including: carbon offsets, establishment of a carbon bank, tax incentives, Farm Bill programs, crop insurance, research and technology, public lands management, providing technical assistance, and providing assistance to tribes and beginning and minority landowners.

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