Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden are fighting the same fight in trying to get farmers on board with ambitious climate plans.
Industry groups in both countries say efforts are already being made to reduce emissions.
That is true in many instances, but as was pointed out in a recent Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute dialogue, the sector is the only Canadian industry projected to have emissions increase between 2005 and 2030.
Agri-Food Economic System’s Inc. research lead Al Mussell noted fuels used in farm machinery are reflected in the oil and gas category, while carbon sequestration efforts are captured in a specialized category for land.
Like Canada, emissions from American farm operations continue to move in the wrong direction.
The U.S. administration’s new dedication to fighting climate change will reinvigorate efforts to reduce emissions, but already Canada wasn’t keeping pace with its southern neighbours: overall greenhouse gas emissions have dropped at a higher rate in the United States since 2005.
Ag-lobby groups enthusiastically say their members know climate change is real, and common sense tells us that farmers are aware of the vested interest they have in environmentally friendly land management, but that hasn’t stopped skepticism over the effectiveness of green policy from farmers wanting to rest on the laurels of previous efforts.
Most farmers oppose carbon pricing, and in Canada, some producer groups unenthusiastically shrugged over a 2021 budget dedicating millions of dollars to producers adopting green tech.
Operating in a more theatrical political environment, Biden is tasked with convincing producers he does not plan on banning hamburgers, as some of his political opponents have suggested, despite few details of his climate strategy being readily available.
Biden’s goal of hitting net-zero emissions by 2050 goes beyond the already ambitious target shared by Canada and other signatories of the Paris Accord.
A path to a 2030 emissions target for the U.S. is found in a recent submission from the country to the United Nations.
It lays out plans to scale up “climate smart agricultural practices” like cover crops and rotational grazing while also making mention of “potential to sequester and store large quantities of carbon.”
(No mention of hamburgers, or even beef).
Trudeau and Biden’s efforts to get farmers on board with their climate plans are further hindered because producers in the U.S. and Canada aren’t traditional allies of Liberal, or Democratic, governments.
Biden’s plans aim to support farmers as they move to green technologies and reward farmers who have successfully found new ways of sequestering carbon.
Tom Vilsack, Biden’s Agriculture Secretary, said efforts to reduce emissions will “focus on enhancing climate-smart agricultural practices, the development of biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration, better forest management and reforestation.”
At least at a high level, the American plan has its similarities with Canada’s in that they look to broadly support farmers as they transition to greener technologies and enter the carbon off-set market.
Policy makers in both jurisdictions are currently grappling with big questions, like how, if at all, early adopters of green technology should be compensated.
Both countries are also witnessing the continued rapid development of a carbon market, creating another set of challenges.
(Historically, carbon market registries have not been kind to offsets considered “business as usual” or actions that would have occurred in the absence of a carbon market, such as no-till farming).
Concerns over registries, or how to accurately quantify green efforts, are common and prices for carbon offsets offered at the various exchanges vary unsustainably.
Despite these challenges and confusions found in implementing new green policies, the reality of the climate crisis creates an urgency to do so.
Biden recommitting the U.S. to international climate goals, and beyond, is a welcome sign for anyone who likes the Earth.
While unlikely due to issues of competitiveness, Canada and the U.S. should work together where possible to align policies for producers helping combat climate change.