Biden Plan Calls for USDA, Other Federal Agencies
To Take on Climate Change
Agriculture plays a significant role in recommendations formulated for the incoming Biden administration to deal with climate change. Incentivizing Climate Smart Agriculture is among the key recommendations listed for implementation by the USDA.
The Climate 21 Project taps the expertise of more than 150 experts with high-level government experience, including nine former cabinet appointees, to deliver actionable advice for a rapid-start, whole-of-government climate response coordinated by the White House and accountable to the President.
The project entails a series of memos that contain recommendations for 11 White House offices, federal departments, including the USDA, and federal agencies, as well as cross-cutting recommendations on personnel and hiring.
The authors, which include a number of former Obama administration officials, say the Climate 21 Project is not offering a policy agenda. Instead, they say the memos contain recommendations “that can help the President hit the ground running and build the capacity of his administration to tackle the climate crisis quickly with the existing tools at hand.”
The recommendations are focused in scope on areas where the contributors have the most expertise. But officials say an “all-of-government mobilization” on climate change will require important work by additional federal departments and agencies that were not examined by the Climate 21 Project.
Key program recommendations and opportunities listed in the USDA section include:
- Issue a Secretarial Order on Climate Change and Rural Investment to signal climate change as a top priority of the department frame USDA’s interest in investing in agriculture, forestry, technology, innovation, and rural economies, and to set agendas for policy and programmatic actions needed to act on climate. (Day 100)
- Invest in natural climate solutions by establishing a Carbon Bank using the Commodity Credit Corporation to finance large-scale investments in climate smart land management practices; prioritizing climate smart practices in implementation of Farm Bill conservation programs; and identifying opportunities to invest in natural infrastructure. (Day 100)
- Incentivize Climate Smart Agriculture and Rural Investment through financial tools, including crop insurance, rural development grants and loans, and USDA procurement. (Day 100)
- Decarbonize rural energy and promote green energy and smart grids through the vast reach of rural development grants and loans to rural utilities and by dramatically increasing use of methane digesters, biofuels and wood energy, and wood product innovation. (Day 100)
- Prioritize federal investment to address wildfire by establishing a Wildfire Commission, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and a Democratic and Republican governor, to offer recommendations to increase the pace and scale of ecologically-sound forest restoration on federal, state, tribal and private forest lands, modernize firefighting response in the United States, address development in the wildland-urban interface, and increase the use of prescribed fire. (Day 100)
The document calls on the incoming Biden administration to create a new National Climate Council to coordinate and drive climate policy. Officials say the new body would be comparable in White House policy influence with the National Economic Council.
Database Offers More Accurate Modelling
Of Climate Change on Water Resources
To better document the repercussions of climate change on regional water resources, researchers from around the world now have access to HYSETS, a database of hydrometric, meteorological and physiographic data created by a team at Montreal, Canada’s École de Technologie Supérieure (ÉTS).
The database contains 70 years’ worth of data on 14,425 North American watersheds.
“Given the diversity of its data and the number of regions documented, HYSETS will allow you to develop models for virtually any type of climate,” said Richard Arsenault, professor of construction engineering and a member of the Hydrology, Climate and Climate Change Laboratory (HC3), at ÉTS, who spearheaded the project.
The ready-to-use data are offered free of charge and can be downloaded from HERE.
“Normally, we have to draw the data we need from several different databases, then filter them before being able to use them to create a reliable model. This task must be repeated each time we want to create a model. We thought it would be a good idea to create a huge database with ready-to-use data that could serve the entire scientific community,” explained Richard Arsenault.
HC3 officials say HYSETS differentiates itself from other databases with the huge number of watersheds its covers, the wide variety of data provided for each watershed, and its reach across three nations.
Officials also say HYSETS contains hydrometric, meteorological and physiographic data – a diversity that is highly useful, if not necessary, to better understanding the propagation of uncertainties in water resource management chains.
Another notable factor cited by officials is HYSETS inclusion of data that covers a long period of time, from 1950 to 2018. The database will be augmented annually with data from the previous year, making it highly useful for studying past and more recent changes in hydroclimatic variables across different regions of North America.
The HYSETS database can also be used as a test environment for a wide range of applications, including hydrological modeling. With multiple datasets on temperatures and precipitation, the database can assist in correcting biases in worldwide and regional climate models.
Arsenault says the database is an “undeniable” asset for researchers in hydrology, environment and climate sciences, because it’s easier to develop models using a significant number of regions. In addition, current studies rely more and more on large scale data in order to take into account the instabilities created by climate change.
New Global Temperature Data Will Inform Study
Of Climate Impacts on Ag, Health
A seemingly small one-to-two-degree change in the global climate can dramatically alter weather-related hazards. Given that such a small change can result in such big impacts, it is important to have the most accurate information possible when studying the impact of climate change. This can be especially challenging in data-sparse areas like Africa, where some of the most dangerous hazards are expected to emerge.
A new data set published in the journal Scientific Data provides high-resolution, daily temperatures from around the globe that could prove valuable in studying human health impacts from heat waves, risks to agriculture, droughts, potential crop failures, and food insecurity.
Data scientists Andrew Verdin and Kathryn Grace of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota worked with colleagues at the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California Santa Barbara to produce and validate the data set.
“It’s important to have this high-resolution because of the wide-ranging impacts – to agriculture, health, infrastructure. People experiencing heat waves, crop failures, droughts – that’s all local,” said Verdin, the lead author.
By combining weather station data, remotely sensed infrared data and the weather simulation models, this new data set provides daily estimates of 2-meter maximum and minimum air temperatures for 1983-2016. Named CHIRTS-daily, this data provides high levels of accuracy, even in areas where on-site weather data collection is sparse. Current efforts are focused on updating the data set in near real time.
“We know that the next 20 years are going to bring more extreme heat waves that will put millions or even billions of people in harm’s way. CHIRTS-daily will help us monitor, understand, and mitigate these rapidly emerging climate hazards”, said Chris Funk, director of the Climate Hazards Center.
Additionally, the people who are most vulnerable are often located in areas where publicly available weather station data are deteriorating or unreliable. Areas with rapidly expanding populations and exposures (Africa, Central America and parts of Asia, for example) can’t rely on weather observations. By combining different sources of weather information, each contributes to provide detail and context for a more accurate, global temperature dataset.
“We’re really excited about the possibilities for fine-scale, community-focused climate-health data analyses that this dataset can support. We’re excited to see researchers use it,” said co-author Kathryn Grace.
CO2 Emissions Mapped for Entire U.S. Landscape
To Help Improve Policymaking
A NASA-funded researcher has published results he says details greenhouse gas emissions across the entire U.S. landscape at high space- and time-resolution, with details on economic sector, fuel and combustion process.
Northern Arizona University Professor Kevin Gurney, who specializes in atmospheric science, ecology and public policy, has spent several years developing a standardized system, as part of the Vulcan Project that quantifies and visualizes greenhouse gases emitted throughout the entire country. The measurements can be taken down to individual power plants, neighborhoods, areas of land and roadways, identifying problem areas and enabling better decisions about where to cut emissions.
Leading up to the nationwide study, which is now published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Gurney produced emissions maps of several different large cities, including the Los Angeles megacity, Indianapolis, the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Gurney developed the high-resolution emissions map as an effective tool for scientific and policy applications. He says his goal is to provide policymakers throughout the nation with a means to strategically address problem areas instead of taking an inefficient and costly approach.
“We’re providing U.S. policymakers at national, state and local scales with a scalpel instead of a hammer,” he said. “Policies that might be relevant to California are possibly less relevant for Chicago or New York. They need to have information that reflects their unique conditions but follows a rigorous, standardized scientific approach. In this way, they can have confidence in the numbers which, in turn, will stimulate smart investment in reducing emissions.”
A strength of Gurney’s approach is validation by atmospheric monitoring of CO2 from ground-based and satellite instruments.
“By synthesizing the detail of building and road-scale emissions with the independence and accuracy of atmospheric monitoring, we have the best possible estimate of emissions with the most policy-relevant detail,” Gurney said.
Data from the Vulcan mapping project is available on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Data Archive. Additional imagery is available on the Vulcan website.
Scientists Show Climate-Adapted Plant Breeding
Using a combination of new molecular and statistical methods, a research team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) was able to show that material from gene banks can be used to improve traits in the corn plant.
The findings show that old varieties can be used to breed new varieties adapted to current and future climates.
A renowned seed vault in Spitsbergen, Norway, and national gene banks retain hundreds of thousands of seed samples to preserve old varieties of crop plants and the genetic diversity associated with them. Researchers around the globe are investigating whether retained samples contain genes that have been lost through breeding which could be beneficial in counteracting climate change.
A research team led by Chris-Carolin Schön, professor of plant breeding at the TUM, is now presenting a solution to harness the genetic potential of old varieties, so-called landraces.
Since the 1960s, corn has been grown in Europe’s fields mainly in the form of hybrid varieties, which are developed through a specific breeding scheme and, for example, are “trimmed” for high yield per acre or low susceptibility to pests.
In order to breed the best variety, a kit of characteristics is needed that could be relevant both today and in the future. Thus, genetic diversity is the basic prerequisite for breeding improved crop plants.
Hybrid varieties, however, carry only a small selection of traits compared to old varieties, the landraces. The question then is whether in addition to undesirable traits, beneficial traits have been lost in the course of many breeding generations.
As a result, the call for landraces has recently been revived, as they are characterized by high biodiversity and are considered a natural source of new genetic variation for breeding. Genetic variation reflects different variants of a gene and can be recognized by differences in the plant’s appearance.
The early development of young plants is of particular importance in times of climate change, researchers note. Drought and heat are the conditions most damaging to crops such as corn when the conditions occur during flowering. When a plant can be cultivated early in the year because it can cope with cold, it has already left its flowering period behind when temperatures are particularly high in summer. This means that it is less damaged and yield losses can be avoided.
Schön and her colleagues have been examining landrace varieties for cold tolerance characteristics, developing a genome-based method of identifying and making targeted use of beneficial gene resources. After a preliminary study, in which the researchers identified the genetic differences of individual varieties, they selected three landraces for cultivation in different locations with varying climatic conditions within Europe.
The research team focused on traits related to early plant development and also took into account the stability of the plant (How well does it withstand wind?) and the growth form (straight or bushy?). Using molecular methods that scan the entire genome, they were able to link the data from the field trials to genes relevant to the specific traits.
“We have shown how to find new genetic variation for important traits in agricultural production. The variation in these traits is determined by many genes and is not sufficiently available in current breeding material,” says Manfred Mayer, lead author of the study. “This opens the door to the development of improved climate-adapted hybrid varieties.”