U.S. Must Cut Agricultural Emissions by 23% and Boost Forest Carbon Storage by 43% to Meet Climate Goals

EDF report sets ambitious but achievable climate targets and provides low-cost, high-impact pathways to achieve them

September 21, 2022
Hilary Kirwan, (202) 572-3277, hkirwan@edf.org

(NEW YORK, NY) The U.S. has committed to cut national emissions in half by 2030. It can’t achieve that goal without agriculture, which currently emits more than 10% of the country’s annual emissions. Until now, details about how to cut agricultural emissions — without compromising food security or producer livelihoods — were unclear.

Ambitious Climate Mitigation Pathways for U.S. Agriculture and Forestry: Vision for 2030, a new report from Environmental Defense Fund with economic analysis from ICF, provides a bold but achievable roadmap for how farms, ranches and forests can get the U.S. 17% of the way toward its 2030 goal.

The report sets the first science-based targets for reduced emissions from U.S. agriculture and increased carbon storage from U.S. forestry, and identifies the most impactful, lowest-cost pathways to achieve those targets. By 2030, U.S. farms and ranches can cut agricultural emissions by 23%, and U.S. forests can boost carbon storage by 43%.

“Climate change is already here, making it harder to grow crops and raise cattle in many places. Fortunately, agriculture has two super powers to quickly slow warming this decade: cutting methane from livestock production and nitrous oxide from fertilizer use. These are powerful greenhouse gases that largely determine the rate of climate change we will experience in the near term,” said Amy Hughes, senior manager for Climate-Smart Agriculture at EDF.

“To stabilize the climate, we need to protect existing forests and reforest areas where forests have been cleared. That will require significant new investments in forest conservation and restoration by the federal government and the private sector,” said Eric Holst, associate vice president for Natural Climate Solutions at EDF. “Land use decisions are the biggest determinant of whether the vast U.S. landscape will be a net carbon sink or source.”

The four biggest agriculture and forestry climate opportunities are:

  • Cutting agricultural methane emissions 25% by 2030 by changing how much methane cattle burp as they digest food and improving the way manure is stored.
  • Cutting agricultural nitrous oxide emissions 9% by 2030 by optimizing fertilizer use on cropland.
  • Cutting carbon dioxide emissions from land use change 72% by 2030 by keeping all existing forests, wetlands and grasslands intact rather than clearing them for new cropland or urban developments.
  • Increasing carbon storage in forests 32% by 2030 by reforesting land, improving management of existing forests, and adopting agroforestry practices that integrate trees and shrubs into crop- and pastureland.

“The climate pathways in this report will slow warming and create new market opportunities for rural economies,” said Britt Groosman, vice president of Climate-Smart Agriculture at EDF. “This is the most important decade in our lifetimes for determining the climate future we will experience. It’s time to help farmers, ranchers and foresters achieve the full mitigation potential of these climate solutions.”

“The climate opportunities EDF identified in this report would avoid the equivalent annual emissions of more than 120 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles or more than 150 coal-fired power plants,” said Brad Hurley, senior communications consultant at ICF. “The agriculture and forestry sectors have a vital role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution and limiting the impacts of future climate change.”

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter and our Growing Returns blog.