California cap-and-trade proceeds to benefit ag projects

By Len Richardson

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 25, 2014 - California Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature have agreed on how to divide up some $872 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds as part of the Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget, according to the California Climate and Agriculture Network.

The Network says that while most of the cap-and-trade funds go to high-speed rail, clean transportation and land use planning projects known as “Sustainable Communities Strategies,” over $30 million is earmarked for agricultural projects that reduce greenhouse gas. Of that, $15 million will support agricultural energy and operational efficiency projects. Some $10 million will fund agricultural water use efficiency projects at the farm level, approved in this year's drought package.

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Of the $130 million that will go to implementing regional Sustainable Communities Strategies, $6.5 million will go towards agricultural land preservation as a component of integrated land use and transportation projects.

“It is encouraging to see that the governor and legislators recognize that agriculture can play a part in addressing California's climate crisis,” Rich Rominger, a Yolo County farmer and food and agriculture secretary during Brown's first tenure as governor, said in a Network blog. “It is important that agriculture is included from the start of the state's investments in climate change solutions.”

A new report by professors from UCLA and five other universities came to the same conclusion, asserting that the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere has to be reduced.

“We have to cut down the amount of emissions we're putting into the atmosphere if, in the future, we want to have anything like the Earth we have now," said Daniela Cusack, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of geography at UCLA.

Still, the study concluded, some approaches to climate engineering are more promising than others, and those techniques should be used to augment efforts to reduce the 9 gigatons of carbon dioxide being released each year by human activity. A gigaton is 1 billion tons.

Working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation and NASA, Cusack's team spent two years evaluating more than 100 studies that addressed the various implications of climate engineering and their anticipated effects on greenhouse gases.

The group focused its investigation on the five strategies that appear to hold the most promise: reducing emissions, sequestering carbon through biological means on land and in the ocean, storing carbon dioxide in a liquefied form in underground geological formations and wells, increasing the Earth's cloud cover, and solar reflection.

Of those approaches, none came close to reducing emissions as much as conservation, increased energy efficiency and low-carbon fuels. Technology that is already available could reduce the amount of carbon being added to the atmosphere by some 7 gigatons per year, the team found.

Of the five options the group evaluated, sequestering carbon through biological means - or converting atmospheric carbon into solid sources of carbon like plants - holds the most promise, Cusack said. One source, curbing the destruction of forests and promoting growth of new forests, could tie up as much as 1.3 gigatons of carbon in plant material annually, the team calculated. Deforestation now is responsible for adding 1 gigaton of carbon each year to the atmosphere.

Improving soil management is another biological means of carbon sequestration that holds considerable promise, Cusack said. This is because soils can trap plant materials that have already converted atmospheric carbon dioxide into a solid form as well as any carbon dioxide that the solids give off as they decompose.

“We have the technology, and we know how to do it,” Cusack said. “It's just that there doesn't seem to be political support for reducing emissions.”

The state budget agreement also specified that high-speed rail, transit and Sustainable Communities Strategies will receive 60 percent of the future funds in on-going, continuous appropriations. The remaining 40 percent, which could reach billions of dollars in future years, will be allocated annually as part of the regular budget process.

The agreement also includes a framework for future investments in natural resources, with emphasis on agriculture, forest health, wetlands, and urban forestry, according to the California Climate and Agriculture Network. These projects will compete for 40 percent of all cap-and-trade auction proceeds beginning in FY 2015-16, alongside other programs in waste reduction, energy efficiency, and low carbon transportation.

“The budget deal's investments in our natural and working lands are a good first step toward meeting the state's climate change goals,” adds Haley Stewart, California program associate with Defenders of Wildlife. “We look forward to working with the Governor and legislative leaders to support on-going investments in natural resources solutions to climate change.”

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