Turning the Mid-Century Decarbonization Strategy into Concrete Policy for U.S. Forests and Agriculture (2017-2018)

Background

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing society and policymakers in the United States and other countries. While climate change is often thought of primarily as an energy issue, it is also a land use issue with deforestation and other land-based emissions accounting for about one quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, forests are a net sink, sequestering about 14% of CO2 emissions annually, although this sink is declining. Agriculture accounts for about 7-8% of annual U.S. emissions. Like all environmental challenges, policy solutions are necessarily interdisciplinary and must bring together climate/natural resource science, economics and policy expertise while winning support from important stakeholder groups.

The United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization was released in November 2016 by the federal government and detailed the critical role that forests and agriculture play in long-term efforts to dramatically reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. The Strategy notes that conserving and expanding forests, enhancing carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, conserving wetlands and reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions from agriculture are key strategies to cost-effectively reduce the atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations necessary for the U.S. to help the world avoid dangerous climate change. The Strategy left unanswered, however, the specific policy measures and the financial resources required to meet the forest and agricultural goals outlined in the Strategy.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will develop environmentally sound and politically feasible policy proposals for carbon sequestration/ greenhouse gas emissions reductions in forests, agricultural lands and wetlands in the United States based on the goals outlined in the Mid-Century Strategy. Team members will use the Strategy as a jumping-off point for analyzing land availability, policy options and costs associated with meeting the mid-century goals.

Drawing on existing research and models, particularly Brian Murray’s work and others, that have examined the potential of land-based carbon sequestration and the implications on land use, the team will analyze existing federal programs pertaining to reforestation, forest management, soil carbon and other greenhouse gas reduction activities for effectiveness in spurring climate mitigation activities, costs and potential for expansion.

Team members will also analyze improvements in policy mechanisms, such as the use of market-oriented policies such as offsets, that could reduce the costs of achieving climate goals. This project will also look at both the ancillary benefits of greenhouse gas emissions reductions activities such as water conservation, wildlife protection and rural economic development, and potential unintended consequences of such activities. Team members will examine policies to promote markets for wood and agricultural products as a means to bolster maintenance and management of forest and agricultural lands.

Part of the project will be to assess the political feasibility of different policy options by examining the impact of various programs and policies on forest, agricultural and rural stakeholders. The team will do this by interviewing Congressional staff, federal officials, staff at nongovernmental organizations and other policy experts.

The team will produce a report describing the problem, the analyses undertaken by team members and a series of policy recommendations. It will be released at an event in Washington, D.C., that will seek to gather Congressional staff, conservation groups, landowner groups and press.

Anticipated Outcomes

Report with analyses and policy recommendations; event to share findings

Timing

Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Fall 2017: September: Team selection, project initiation, work plan completion, team assignments; October: Initial research (assess MCS goals: review literature from report; interview agency personnel that prepared the report with questions and clarifications, if necessary; examine studies by Murray and others on potential carbon offset supply and implications for policy choices); November and December: Federal and state program evaluation (examine existing incentive programs [U.S.D.A. Farm Bill Programs; federal lands programs, Forest Service, B.L.M., U.S. Fish and Wildlife; tax policy – easements, reforestation tax credit; Land and Water Conservation Fund; Restore Council, coastal wetlands; California A.B. 32 funding for land use activities]; offsets and market-based approaches [voluntary markets, including projects supported by federal dollars; California compliance market]; commodity markets (wood, bioenergy)
  • Spring 2018: January and February: Build the policy recommendations with costs and range of GHG tons; produce first draft of report by March 1; March: Stakeholder research, political feasibility (conversations with stakeholders, NGOs, federal officials, others; possible trip to Washington for interviews); produce final report by April 1; April: Roll out plan, event and release in mid-April

Crediting

Course credit available for fall and spring semesters

Themes

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Robert Bonnie, Nicholas School; Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions*
Brian Murray, Nicholas School; Energy Initiative; Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Lydia Olander, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Timothy Profeta, Sanford School; Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

* denotes team leader

Status

Active