Washington Insider-- Friday

Slowing Climate Change a Challenge for Biden Foreign Policy

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Still More Questions Than Answers On Coming Ag Climate Efforts

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack fielded several questions on climate change and coming policy plans from the Biden administration relative to agriculture as he testified on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget plans for his agency. While the details of the major portion of the budget are yet to be released, Vilsack addressed questions on the proposed funding increase for USDA climate hubs. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., raised comments by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates that consumers in rich countries should be eating meat alternatives, something Fortenberry said would negatively impact his state and its cattle industry.

Asked if he agreed with Gates' comments, Vilsack stated that he believes farmers are "great stewards" and that they will "embrace climate smart agriculture practices" and animal stewardship activities "and be able to allow us to message the ability and importance of animal protein production."

He also said he did not favor barring certain technologies and expressed support for methane-reducing technologies and the ability to capture methane from cows could be important tools. There was little fresh information offered on the administration's plans for a carbon bank or how they intend to create climate programs for crop farmers.

USDA's NASS Undertaking Major Review of Grain Stocks Report

USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is undertaking a “deep dive” on the policies and procedures the agency uses to prepare its Grain Stocks report, Lance Honig, head of the NASS crops branch, said during the first day of a virtual data users meeting. Sampling methods, questionnaires used to gather data and the processing of that information will be the focus.

Findings of the review and recommendations are due by September 30, he noted. Honig acknowledged questions that have arisen over the Grain Stocks report in particular, where revisions to prior stocks figures have caused market reactions. Honig insisted that NASS has not altered its revision policy and said most of the adjustments on prior numbers were from late or updated reports from commercial grain storage firms.

Honig told IHS Markit that the late reports are a combination typically of ones that come in after the deadline for the prior quarter or are corrected reports from the prior quarter and those can come into the agency at any time. Any changes recommended would not be put in place until after October 1, with any changes that are linked to manuals or training documents to be implemented immediately.

He also pointed out during the data users meeting that that in the quarterly stocks data there is also an element of forecasting that takes place relative to imports, exports, food and industrial use, another factor that can produce revisions once final data in those areas for the quarter is available.

Washington Insider: Slowing Climate Change a Challenge for Biden Foreign Policy

The press is widely reporting this week that the Biden administration is working to make a splash about climate change in the coming days. For example, Bloomberg says John Kerry "has been flying around the world trying to get some of the biggest polluters to step up their fight against climate change in time for a White House Earth Day summit on April 22."

The report indicates that the April goal could turn out to be a disappointment.

Kerry, the president's climate envoy, has been meeting with diplomats to reestablish America as a leader on global climate action after four years of backtracking under former President Donald Trump, Bloomberg says. "That means setting an ambitious 2030 emissions-reduction target and then cajoling others to strengthen their goals."

There may be a problem overcoming the world's mistrust, Bloomberg thinks, "since the U.S. reneged on its climate promises before."

"They've clearly been looking to try to encourage other countries to increase their ambition, but I don't think this is the date," said Pete Ogden, who served in the Obama administration and is now vice president for energy, climate and the environment at the United Nations Foundation. "I do not expect that everything will be on a glide path to 1.5 (Celsius) degrees," he said.

The Paris Agreement strives to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, the limit scientists say is needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming. To get there the world will have to zero out greenhouse gases emissions by 2050, a timeline that will only be achieved if countries step up their climate action significantly.

In its efforts to build deals by Earth Day, the administration is reporting favorable results for some close allies, but building agreements with powers like China, Brazil and India is proving difficult.

The New York Times says the administration is nearing agreements with Japan and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets ahead of a closely watched summit of global leaders on Earth Day, April 22.

It says that "in the latest sign of how difficult it will be for President Biden to make climate change a core part of his foreign policy, similar agreements are also needed with China, India and Brazil, economic powerhouses that together produce more than a third of global emissions, and which remain elusive."

The cooperation of China, the world's largest emitter of climate-changing pollution, is vital to slowing global warming--but Beijing is also Washington's biggest rival on the world stage, the Times notes.

With Brazil, the Biden administration's efforts to negotiate an Amazon rainforest protection plan with conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, have bitterly divided environmental advocates, given the Bolsonaro administration's dismal environmental record.

And in India, where Kerry recently wrapped up three days of negotiations that did not yield any specific promise to strengthen New Delhi's climate ambition, the administration must weigh its need for cooperation with its concerns over human rights, the Times says. Indian leaders, meantime, have been unsettled by pressure to deliver an announcement in time for the administration's summit after spending the past four years working with a U.S. administration that abandoned the rest of the world's efforts to tackle global warming.

"Maybe there's a little bit of time lag that will go into building that trust and relationship back," said Aarti Khosla, director of Climate Trends, a climate change nonprofit based in New Delhi.

The focal point of the Leaders' Summit on Climate will be the Biden administration's plan to cut American emissions by 2030, and how it can overcome fierce Republican opposition. The ambitions and practicality of that target could determine the Biden administration's success in convincing other nations to do more than they have already pledged.

"Summitry is theater, and it can be extremely impactful if there is a big centerpiece," said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a climate adviser for the United Nations Secretary General. "That centerpiece is the U.S. plan."

Publicly, the Biden administration has tried to dampen expectations that other countries will make major announcements at the U.S. event. Behind the scenes, though, State Department diplomats have been hustling to prod allies into doing just that.

Kerry, in a statement, declined to specifically address the likelihood of other countries joining the United States in big announcements, saying the summit "will be a chance for major economies and other countries to work together at the highest possible levels to address the climate crisis."

U.S. progress toward new agreements with some industrialized countries in less than three months is a testament to the climate diplomacy that Kerry has conducted, the Times says. He has traveled to six countries and held what aides described as dozens of video conferences and calls each week since January.

Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister of Japan, is expected to announce a new emissions target in the range of 50 percent below 2013 levels by 2030 in the near future. The United States and Japan also have been discussing new restrictions on coal financing, though an announcement on that remains unclear.

A major South Korean news outlet, the Maeil Business Newspaper, reported this week that South Korean leaders were poised to announce an overseas coal financing moratorium. And Canada, which already has signed a strong bilateral agreement with the United States on climate change, has said it will announce stronger targets at the summit.

So, we will see. Certainly, climate change agreements are a central part if the administration's goals and producers should watch the details of these efforts very closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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