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Daily News Blog

05
Nov

California Releases Strategy for Land Management Practices that Confronts Climate Crisis

(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2021) Once again earning its environmental leadership reputation, California has released a draft strategy document designed to catalyze near- and long-term climate action through focused attention on the state’s natural and working lands, and on nature-based solutions. The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) announced the draft Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy in mid-October. In the announcement, CNRA asserts that the state’s 105 million acres can “sequester and store carbon emissions, limit future carbon emissions into the atmosphere, protect people and nature from the impacts of climate change, and build resilience to future climate risks.” The agency also notes that the plan would secure food and water supplies, improve public health and safety, and forward equity. It has invited public comment, and a coalition of California (and national) nonprofit advocates is delivering a letter that calls on the agency to include, in the plan, ambitious targets to move the state’s agricultural sector away from the use of harmful synthetic pesticides. Beyond Pesticides will sign on to the letter.

This “natural and working lands” document will inform California’s 2021 State Adaptation Strategy and the 2022 Scoping Plan — master documents guiding the state’s climate action during the coming years. As the document notes, “According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . . . reducing emissions in transportation, industry and buildings are [sic] not enough to avert catastrophic climate change — lands must be part of the climate solution.”

Signers of the advocacy letter (which can be accessed here) to be sent by the coalition to Secretary Wade Crowfoot of CNRA include Pesticide Action Network, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Center for Biological Diversity, Physicians for Social Responsibility (Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay), Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club California, Comité Pro Uno, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council, SoCal 350 Climate Action, 350 Humboldt, Moms Advocating Sustainability, Science and Environmental Health Network, and many others.

CNRA reports that the draft planning document was informed through a variety of public input opportunities (regional workshops, questionnaires, and advisory panels), and that it:
• defines California’s eight natural and working landscapes*

  • describes how these landscapes can advance progress on the state’s climate goals
  • highlights priority nature-based climate solutions
  • explores opportunities for regional, climate-smart land management
  • outlines nearly 200 opportunities to scale climate-smart land management across the state’s regions and sectors
  • identifies ways to track nature-based climate action and measure progress

* The eight landscapes are: forests, shrublands and chaparral, developed lands, wetlands, seagrasses and seaweeds, croplands, grasslands, and sparsely vegetated lands.

In generating this strategic plan, CNRA acted on Governor Gavin Newsom’s October 2020 nature-based solutions Executive Order N-82-20, which sought to gather under one cohesive strategy all current, relevant state efforts, and to advance land management measures that can achieve carbon neutrality, help protect climate-vulnerable communities, improve public health and safety, and increase economic opportunity. Governor Newsom commented on the draft strategy: “Once again, California is taking on the mantle of global climate leadership and advancing bold strategies to fight climate change. The science is clear that, in our existential fight against climate change, we must build on our historic efforts in energy and emissions, and focus on our lands, as well. California’s beautiful natural and working lands are an important tool to help slow and avert catastrophic climate change.”

Endorsements of the plan have come from multiple state officials from the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. A comment from Karen Ross, secretary of CDFA, includes this: “It is important that we look at the ways in which our farmers and ranchers can help protect the environment as they produce the crops and livestock so integral to the health, well-being, and livelihood of Californians.” A laudable sentiment, but as the advocacy coalition points out, “The draft Strategies do not go far enough in setting ambitious targets that would transition our agricultural systems away from toxic pesticides and towards safer and more climate-friendly alternative agricultural systems like agroecological and organic agriculture.”

Indeed, the plan’s attention to the use of synthetic pesticides, though well intended, is very general and often, too anodyne to leverage meaningful “on the ground” change. Examples include:
• from the “Croplands” section of the document is this strategy: “Advance safer, more sustainable pest management practices and tools to support the accelerated transition away from harmful pesticides.”

  • from the “Developed Lands” section: “Utilize safer, more sustainable pest management tools and practices to combat invasive species and accelerate the transition away from harmful pesticides.”
  • #172 (of 182 listed strategies) in the “Opportunities to Scale Action” section: “Expand safer, more sustainable pest management alternatives to harmful pesticides and support the increased reliance on biological pest control to protect worker and public health, and support scaled up training for integrated pest management technical assistance providers.” [See Beyond Pesticides’ take on “integrated pest management.”]
  • in #182, for the Department of Fish and Wildlife: “Prioritize programs and projects that promote safer, more sustainable pest management practices and tools and reduce the use of harmful pesticides, promote healthy soils, improve water and air quality, and reduce public health impacts. In addition, support strategies that achieve co-benefits of safer, more sustainable pest management practices and the health and preservation of ecosystems.”

According to the coalition of advocates, these general goals are welcome, but must be nailed down with robust targets for reduction of synthetic pesticide use, and support for the transition to climate-friendly agricultural systems, such as agroecological and organic approaches. Such systems also promote public health, farmer and farmworker livelihoods, soil health, and food sovereignty. Specifics matter, advocates say, in a state that already uses pesticides on cropland at a rate 4.5 times higher than the national average. Beyond Pesticides joins the coalition in its critique that ambitious and specific targets are critical to achieving climate goals, and concomitant public health and safety, food and water supply, and equity goals.

The coalition letter highlights the dangers ahead. As climate impacts grow, an increase in uses of synthetic pesticides in agriculture is likely — because of waning efficacy of these compounds (see Beyond Pesticides’ information on pesticide resistance), and mounting pest pressure (because warming causes increases in insect metabolism and population growth). Because production of pesticides contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and because synthetic fertilizers (often used in conventional agriculture alongside pesticides) contribute significant amounts of the greenhouse gas NOx (nitrous oxide), use of these products contributes to the heating of the atmosphere. By contrast, organic agricultural strategies have been shown to increase significantly the carbon drawdown and holding capacity of soils in field trials in California, and elsewhere. Read more from Beyond Pesticides about the relationship between agriculture and the climate crisis.

The letter also points to the harms of increased pesticide use on farmworkers, who already are at higher risk of climate-related health impacts from increasingly extreme heat and poor air quality (from the smoke of wildfires that are becoming seasonally endemic in the state). Farmworkers, and their families who live near production fields, already experience greater health problems from pesticide use than the average state resident. The coalition letter notes, “Farmworkers are also land stewards, directly involved in growing and harvesting food. They therefore must be considered an integral part of the transition to safer, more sustainable and agroecological farming.” To that end, advocates say that the draft Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy “could do more to center agricultural communities and how they will be affected by climate change — for instance, farmworkers are not mentioned at all in the Draft California Climate Adaptation Strategy.”

The coalition letter makes these recommendations to CNRA:

  • Include an ambitious pesticide reduction target to: (1) reduce the use of synthetic pesticides by 50% by 2030, and (2) reduce the use of hazardous pesticides by 75% by 2030 — focusing first on organophosphates, fumigants, paraquat, and neonicotinoids.
  • Explicitly support organic and agroecological systems as climate resilience and mitigation strategies. Incentives should include comprehensive supports for the transition to organic. Support should include direct financial incentives and more technical assistance providers who specialize in organic and agroecology, and should prioritize serving serving socially disadvantaged farmers. “We recommend a statewide target of transitioning 30% of California’s agricultural acreage to organic by 2030.”
  • Include specific strategies to protect farmworkers’ safety and health, given chemical pesticide use and extreme heat and air quality risks. (An example would be a climate emergency relief fund for undocumented workers, and support for community-based organizations that can help build climate resilience in farmworker communities.) “CNRA staff should also ensure that processes for public input on climate-related strategies are inclusive of farmworkers and other Latinx agricultural communities, [including language accommodations] for all feedback mechanisms.”

Beyond Pesticides additionally recommends that CNRA, and all California agencies engaged with solving the climate crisis, look to the work of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Foundation. Under the umbrella of its project, Roadmap to an Organic California, CCOF Foundation issued in 2019 its Benefits Report, and in 2020, its Policy Report. The Benefits Report sets out the case for, and the ways to get to, an organic food and agricultural system that, as science demonstrates, “can sustainably feed the world’s growing population while promoting public health and prosperity.” The Policy Report focuses on the threats of the climate crisis, economic insecurity, and inequity, and how organic is a huge part of the solutions to these systemic problems. The report notes that “organic agriculture can combat climate change, strengthen the economy, and protect human health.” Read more in Beyond Pesticides coverage of CCOF Foundation’s roadmap.

The world faces an existential climate emergency. It also is contending with crises related to: biodiversity and pollinator decline; chemical pesticides that cause disease; pollution of water bodies, waterways, and drinking water sources by tens of thousands of chemicals deployed into the environment; increasing resistance to medically critical antibiotics caused to great extent by their use in livestock industries; food systems rife with pesticide residues and compromised nutritional value because of soil maltreatment with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; and harm to critical ecosystems that provide environmental services that support all life.

Organic agriculture and land management are pivotal in solving every one of these crises. There is no excuse for not doing everything possible to accelerate the transition to organic, and Beyond Pesticides is solidly in the fight to do so. Please look on the Beyond Pesticides homepage for a related Action of the Week on Monday, November 8, and join us in this advocacy.

Sources: https://resources.ca.gov/Newsroom/Page-Content/News-List/California-Releases-First-Ever-Draft-Natural-and-Working-Lands-Climate-Smart-Strategy and https://resources.ca.gov/-/media/CNRA-Website/Files/Initiatives/Expanding-Nature-Based-Solutions/FINAL_DesignDraft_NWL_100821_508.pdf

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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