Image: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Yesterday Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg released his “Plan to Unleash the Economic Potential of Rural America.” The plan seeks to support agriculture and significantly invest in R&D as a powerful solution to climate change, including through soil carbon sequestration. One of the key components of the plan is to invest $50 billion in innovative research over the next decade, pay farmers for conservation efforts, and establish next-generation Resilience Hubs to share climate resilience data and tools.

A Timely Idea: Last week the IPCC released its Special Report on Climate Change and Land which makes it clear that the way we use our land and cultivate our food must quickly become more sustainable if we’re going to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C and meaningfully act on climate change.

The Problem: In the United States the Farm Bill funds conservation programs that help provide cost shares, financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners who voluntarily undertake conservation efforts on their land. While 2018’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill increased funding for these programs (despite President Trump’s request to slash them), if we follow the IPCC’s advice on sustainable land use then we will likely need a lot more money allocated for these programs which is exactly what Buttigieg’s plan aims to do.

What We Currently Have: As Civil Eats explained, “EQIP and CSP are the two largest “working lands” conservation programs offered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Combined with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to take land out of production for 10 or 15 years in favor of permanent grasslands and wildlife habitat, the USDA’s conservation portfolio impacts more than 100 million acres nationwide while deploying billions of dollars of taxpayer funding.”

Why This Matters: As ODP prepares for our upcoming presidential Climate Forum (with MSNBC and Georgetown Politics on Sept. 19/20), we are making a point to highlight any policy activity coming from the presidential candidates. What stood out to us about Mayor Pete’s inclusion of climate change as part of his broader proposal to address economic uncertainty in rural America was the conscious effort to connect climate change to the economy. That hasn’t been done enough and no one (especially farmers) want to hear about all the things that they will have to give up in order to fight climate change. Instead, the better message is how the federal government can enable farmers to keep their soil healthy, maintain yield, while also helping sequester carbon.
Go Deeper: Massachusetts Senator and 2020 hopeful Elizabeth Warren also released an agricultural climate plan the other week. Here’s how hers differs from Mayor Pete’s.

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