Groups form new climate coalitions

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With climate change likely to be a major conversation over the next four years or more, agriculture and forestry groups are looking for a seat at the table — even if that means working with groups that have traditionally differed on climate policy ideals.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and several other farming, environmental, forestry and food groups announced the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, an alliance to influence climate policy, in a Nov. 17 press conference.

The same day, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, also announced a task force to look for climate change solutions in the agriculture and forestry industries.

The co-founders of the alliance — the bureau, the National Farmers Union, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the Environmental Defense Fund — haven’t always agreed on climate policy. But Zippy Duvall, president for the bureau, said they wanted to get a small, diverse group together to see if they could come up with some common ground.

They added a few more members as they went along — FMI-The Food Industry Association, the National Alliance of Forest Owners, The Nature Conservancy and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

It turns out, the groups had at least three ideals in common: voluntary, market and incentive based policies, science based outcomes and building resilience for rural economies to adapt to climate change. In the conference, they also gave an overview of more than 40 policy recommendations that they spent the better part of the year hammering out.

Recommendations

The  recommendations fall in six areas: energy, soil health, livestock and dairy, forestry and wood products, research and food loss and waste.

Some of the recommendations include work on carbon sequestration and carbon banks, including tax credits for carbon sequestration. They also include more technical assistance for farmers on things like manure management and other conservation practices, and more investment in research.

Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said the policies could show up in many different types of legislation or political action. Some, like the carbon bank, align closely with President-elect Joe Biden’s priorities and could be accomplished administratively. Others might be better suited to a recovery package, or the next farm bill.

The full list of policy recommendations is online at agclimatealliance.com.

Two groups

This isn’t the first climate policy group that the farm bureau, the council of farmer cooperatives and the farmers union have been part of this year. The farm bureau announced the Farmers for a Sustainable Future coalition, a group that it said was focused largely on unifying agriculture’s message on sustainability, Feb. 19.

The new alliance was formed that same month, though it wasn’t announced then.

When asked about the differences between the two climate coalitions, Duvall said the alliance continues the work started by Farmers for a Sustainable Future.

The coalition, which consisted of farming groups, has focused mainly on spreading messages about progress agriculture has already made with conservation and reducing emissions, he said. The new alliance is working with more food, forestry and environmental groups in addition to farming groups.

Perspectives

While the groups were able to come up with some common ground, they continue to disagree on some things. In response to a question on whether the alliance would support a carbon tax, Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the alliance was focused on what united it.

When asked if something had changed the farm bureau’s thinking on climate change, Duvall said farmers have been working on climate change for decades, pointing to the bureau’s policy.

The bureau’s climate change policy supports market-based solutions, but opposes additional regulation for emissions. It has, at times, avoided direct discussion of climate change and has worked against some climate change legislation.

“We really haven’t changed it,” Duvall said. “I think that our organization has realized that we’re going to have a real common sense, science based discussion about how we protect our climate.”

Task force

The alliance isn’t the only new climate group to form. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s new Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Task Force, announced the same day, is assigned to recommend policies and programs for land management that can reduce emissions and increase carbon storage.

The task force will be led by former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia). Both have served on the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition Committee.

The center believes that forestry and agriculture are key sectors when it comes to climate change, and that coming up with better ways to measure the impacts of conservation practices and put together sustainability will encourage more people in those sectors to get involved.

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