Growing Returns

Scientists agree: Soil health matters but climate mitigation potential still uncertain

To keep global temperature increases below 1.5o Celsius — the threshold for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change — the world needs both rapid reductions of new climate pollution and removal of existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Increasing the amount of carbon stored in cropland soils is one pathway for carbon dioxide removal, and it has gained traction over the past several years in voluntary agricultural carbon markets and U.S. climate policy discussions. The idea is that farming practices, such as using cover crops, will add carbon to agricultural soils, and thus help slow climate change.

Scientists agree that agricultural soils can be part of the climate solution, but their estimates about when and how much carbon agricultural soils can store — and thus the magnitude of climate mitigation that soils could deliver — vary widely. Read More »

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Taking a big leap to solve California water problems: How uncommon partners are finding common ground on the water

This blog is co-authored by Joshua Viers, Professor and Program Director, Secure Water Future, University of California, Merced

There we were, 19 of us on the stony shore of the Tuolumne River, feeling a bit stranded like the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

Our “Finding Common Water” rafting excursion was planned around “no water Wednesday,” when river releases are held back for water conservation and infrastructure maintenance. The trip’s goal: Get off our desk chairs and onto rafts, out of the ordinary and into an extraordinary setting — a hot, highly regulated, wild and scenic river —  to push us out of our comfort zone and get to work on addressing real water problems.

Working with All-Outdoors whitewater expeditions, EDF and UC Merced teamed up to create the trip. Our premise was that paddling a raft together — and yanking each other back into the boats by our life vests — can build camaraderie and help find areas of agreement in ways that Zoom meetings just can’t.

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A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

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New research shows how to improve the voluntary carbon market to accelerate investment in nature

The explosion of net-zero emissions commitments over the past few years from major companies and municipalities shows that institutions are ready to tackle climate change. While reducing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases is a clear and primary priority, achieving global net zero will hinge on investing in nature.

Natural climate solutions (NCS) have the potential to deliver at least 20% of the emissions reductions we need to reach net zero by the end of this decade. Plus, they can deliver other benefits like clean air and water, increased biodiversity, economic opportunities for local communities and enhanced protection against storms and flooding.

Despite their value, natural climate solutions receive less than 3% of public finance, and shortcomings in the voluntary carbon market have limited private investment.

New research in Science Magazine explores three pathways for improving the carbon market to help unlock private investment and nature’s ability to help us.

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Small North Carolina farms find profitability in climate resilience

Farms across North Carolina are experiencing more variable and extreme weather associated with climate change, including hotter nights and more frequent and severe rainfall. Small farms are adapting to these changes by adopting climate-resilient practices that help buffer weather extremes and improve soil health.

Measuring and communicating the financial costs and benefits of these practices is important to help more farmers adopt them profitably and find financial support for the transition. Cooperative extension agents — small farms’ closest technical advisers — will increasingly need to inform farmers about climate-resilient practices and their financial impacts.

Environmental Defense Fund and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Cooperative Extension collaborated with three small North Carolina farms to measure the financial impacts of adopting reduced tillage, high tunnels and cover crops. The results are summarized in a new report and set of case studies. Read More »

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How credit and climate change collide for Black farmers in Georgia

Earlier this week, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund hosted a listening session for its Black farmer-members in Georgia in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund. The federation is a nonprofit cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives based primarily in the Southern states. In the listening session, 15 farmers discussed their ongoing concerns about access to credit and climate change impacts, as well as how coalition building and advocacy can support them in continuing to farm. Read More »

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How regional accounting can boost the integrity of the voluntary soil carbon market

As enthusiasm for agricultural soil carbon as a climate mitigation strategy grows, carbon registries and private companies are developing carbon crediting protocols to bring soil carbon credits into the voluntary market. Credits need to accurately represent net greenhouse gas reductions and be equivalent to each other.

An analysis by Environmental Defense Fund and Woodwell Climate Research Center found that this isn’t the case across the board, which creates uncertainty and confusion in the marketplace.

In a new paper published in Science, scientists at these organizations recommend a regional framework to boost market integrity and support farmers, governments and the private sector in delivering high-quality credits.

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How banks can move toward net zero agriculture portfolios

Banks representing over 40% of global bank lending have joined the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative’s Net Zero Banking Alliance and committed to align their lending and investment portfolios with zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By 2024, participating banks with substantial loan portfolios in agriculture will need to set net zero targets for the sector and rapidly embark on reducing emissions.

For this to be possible, banks must accurately measure the emissions they finance in agriculture. This is a particular challenge in agriculture, a sector that includes a vast array of different crops and livestock, farm sizes, and access to tools and technology. Read More »

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Fostering innovative finance in the agriculture value chain

Companies throughout the agriculture value chain have set commitments to reduce the environmental impacts of agricultural production. They’re now engaged in the hard work to achieve those goals by developing programs to increase farmer adoption of conservation practices.

As value chain sustainability programs mature, there is increasing attention on the financial barriers to the implementation of sustainable agriculture at scale — and questions about how financial innovation can overcome those barriers.

A recently released report, Financial Innovations to Accelerate Sustainable Agriculture: Blueprints for the Value Chain, provides companies throughout the food and agriculture sector with 12 tangible innovative finance mechanisms and value-added incentive strategies to support U.S. farmers in scaling conservation practices and delivering sustainable outcomes. The blueprints encompass innovations for transition risk sharing, pay for performance, leasing incentives and more.

Here are three key insights for those looking to take action. Read More »

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Breakthrough agricultural loan rewards farmers for environmental stewardship

Quantifying the long-term financial benefits of conservation practices that build farm resilience and recognizing that value in the financing offered to farmers would be transformative for farms, lenders and the environment.

That idea received a major boost when Farmers Business Network, a global farmer-to-farmer network and ag tech company, launched a new farm operating loan that includes a lower interest rate incentive for farmers who achieve climate and water quality benchmarks.

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