United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

USDA - image credit Ron and Patty Thomas

The US Department of Agriculture has enormous capacity to contribute meaningfully to an ambitious administration climate agency. Agriculture accounts for 9% of US emissions, and US forests sequester 11-15% of annual US fossil fuel emissions. Through actions in both sectors, agriculture and forestry can provide 10-20% of the additional sequestration and emissions reductions needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. USDA is also an important climate science agency and is at the forefront of critical climate adaptation efforts, including reducing catastrophic wildfires, enhancing food security, and bolstering crop resilience among other issues.

The incoming Secretary of Agriculture can get USDA off to a strong start by taking immediate policy actions with near-term impact and setting a solid organizational foundation for long-term impact. USDA has enormous and underappreciated discretionary financial resources and agency expertise that enable the agency to: (1) partner with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to reduce atmospheric GHGs through carbon sequestration and emissions reductions; (2) reduce GHG emissions from rural energy cooperatives; (3) bolster the resilience of private working lands and public forests and grasslands; (4) promote sustainable bioenergy, wood products, and other bio-based materials (5) contribute to the scientific understanding of climate change; and (6) invest in climate economic development in rural communities.

Importantly, given current economic conditions, investments in climate change at USDA can support and create rural jobs in agriculture, forestry, conservation and related businesses, thereby contributing to the economic recovery of rural America. Given climate skepticism by many in rural America, it is critical that agriculture, forestry, and other rural stakeholders view themselves as USDA’s partners to achieve climate goals. USDA initiatives should emphasize collaboration, incentives, the historic resiliency and innovation of agriculture and forestry, and the critical role that rural America can play in helping address climate change while creating jobs and economic opportunity.

Lead Authors

Robert Bonnie, former Undersecretary at USDA Leslie Jones, former Deputy Undersecretary at USDA Meryl Harrell, former Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, USDA