November 20, 2012

Cali's Cap and Trade

As discussed on the blog yesterday, policy is a critical piece of the climate-smart landscape puzzle. Often, to motivate the shifts toward farm practices and landscape features that both mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and increase the resilience of agricultural systems, policies must be in place that align these goals. The State of California recently made history by passing the first climate change bill in the United States, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32). Part of this monumental piece of legislation is a cap-and-trade program, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from certain types of businesses and then allows them to offset additional emissions by purchasing carbon credits. This in and of itself is exciting, as the UNFCCC COP18 approaches and representatives from around the world work to develop similar agreements that would result in mitigating climate change. But perhaps even more newsworthy is how agriculture fits into the picture.

Sustainable agriculture practices, such as planting cover crops, managing grazing practices to sequester carbon, and improving soil organic matter (which also sequesters carbon), can now qualify farmers to receive funds from the cap-and-trade program. A bill that passed early in the year defines the eligible uses of the cap-and-trade funds in agriculture to include:

  1. Research and demonstration to examine the farming practices, systems and food processing that reduce GHG emissions, sequester atmospheric carbon and adapt to climate change.
  2. Technical assistance for producers and processors that communicates research findings into real opportunities for California agriculture to provide voluntary GHG reductions and adaptation activities.
  3. Incentives to overcome barriers to agricultural practices that mitigate and adapt to climate change while providing environmental and health co-benefits, including improved air and water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and water conservation.

Perhaps even more encouraging is that one of the major proponents of the effort – the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN) – focuses on how multiple practices in concert, and a whole systems approach, can sequester even more carbon and increase the resilience of the farm. While there are still uncertainties in the language around sustainability, this marks a very important step moving forward for land-based climate mitigation.

For more, see these articles on Grist and the Bay Area public news station KQED.

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