The Biden administration announced plans Friday for a web-based international climate hub for climate-smart agriculture as government officials, non-governmental organizations and industry met in Egypt to discuss a path forward for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at a COP27 event, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the hub as “a new virtual platform that will connect partners and the public, allowing them to centralize around common ideas and identify investment gaps, create opportunities and accept challenges in climate-smart agriculture.”

Vilsack and a representative from the United Arab Emirates also said that the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C), an international effort started by the two countries, had doubled country commitments to invest in climate solutions from $4 billion to $8 billion, with 22 new “innovation sprints” added to the eight announced with the launch of the effort last year.

Those sprints are described by AIM4C as “an increase in aggregate self-financed investment from non-government partners to achieve an outcome/output in agriculture innovation and for climate-smart agriculture and food systems to be completed in an expedited timeframe.” Vilsack put it more simply: “an acceleration of technology into the marketplace.” 

New sprints include Pathways to Dairy Net Zero, an effort already begun by the global dairy industry to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. 

Vilsack said at COP27 Friday that the dairy industry, where he worked at the head of the U.S. Dairy Export Council in between serving as ag secretary, reduced emissions from enteric fermentation, or cow belches, on a per-gallon-of-milk basis by 7% between 2007 and 2017, “due in large part to improvements in herd management, resulting in better animal diets and improved genetics.” 

Agriculture emissions account for about 11% of U.S. emissions, EPA says, with about a quarter of that coming from methane produced by livestock. Globally, the figure is higher. The UN Environment Programme says livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation (belching) “account for roughly 32 per cent of human-caused methane emission.”

Vilsack also touted anaerobic digesters, whose number grew by 30% in the U.S. between 2018 and 2021.  “These newer digesters are larger and mitigate more greenhouse gas emissions – almost three and a half times more emissions than digesters that were installed in 2010,” Vilsack said.

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The secretary said USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program, which is doling out $2.8 billion for 70 projects, is spending more than $400 million on nine projects focused on dairy. “We expect many of these projects to have important methane benefits for dairy farms across the United States,” Vilsack said. He noted a project led by Dairy Farmers of America to “connect farmers to emerging low-carbon dairy markets, and make sure the financial benefits are captured at the farm.” 

In a fact sheet, the White House touted other efforts by the administration to reduce GHG emissions, including a proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and one from the General Services Administration, Department of Defense and NASA that would require certain federal contractors to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related financial risk and set science-based targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference continues through Nov. 20. Next week, delegates will consider adoption of a draft report.

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