Inflation Reduction Act Shows Congress — At Last — Understands Agriculture’s Contribution To Climate Change And The Opportunities To Reduce It

This groundbreaking law provides approximately $20 billion over four years to support agricultural practices that will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon sequestration.

On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), historic legislation that for the first time directly addresses the dire need for climate change mitigation across multiple sectors, including agriculture. This groundbreaking law provides approximately $20 billion over four years to support agricultural practices that will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon sequestration.  In other words, for the first time, Congress has explicitly identified climate change mitigation as a necessary goal of agricultural funding.

The import of this express acknowledgment of the connection between climate change and agriculture cannot be overstated.  While many recognize the impact that climate change has on agriculture – how the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, heat waves and fires dramatically harm farmers and ranchers – few understand the full extent to which the agriculture sector contributes to the warming planet. It is far more significant than most realize, primarily due to methane emissions from cows and manure and the impact of using so much land.  In fact, agriculture’s true contribution to climate change is on par with the electricity and transportation sectors, and we simply cannot achieve our climate goals without effectively and dramatically reducing emissions from this sector.  And yet, just four years ago, when Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill — legislation that provides over $20 billion of annual subsidies for programs that directly influence what, where, and how farmers produce our food — there was not a single mention of climate throughout the hundreds of pages of the law. (Fortunately, many of the practices that reduce soil loss or water pollution also help curb climate change, so the bill’s conservation programs do provide some support for climate change mitigation.)

We have come a long way in four years, but still have far to go.  The IRA is a critical first step in acknowledging the climate footprint of the agriculture sector and taking appropriate action.  By explicitly linking agricultural funding to climate change mitigation practices, the IRA provides a model for how Congress can more effectively address climate change in the 2023 Farm Bill. We hope Congress will build on this next year and direct most of the farm bill’s conservation funding to practices that will help strengthen climate change mitigation and climate resiliency. 

View the Earthjustice Sustainable Food and Farming Program’s explainer on Agriculture’s Climate Impact here: Agriculture’s Contributions to Climate Change: Accounting for Agriculture’s Broad Climate Footprint

Based in Washington, D.C., Carrie is the deputy managing attorney of the Sustainable Food & Farming Program.

As the Legislative Director for Healthy Communities in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice, Ranjani leads a team of advocates dedicated to defending and improving federal safeguards for clean air, clean water, and against toxics exposure.

Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming program aims to make our nation’s food system safer and more climate friendly.