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New report shows how US land management policies could mitigate future greenhouse gas emissions

With directed policies, the U.S. land sector could achieve a mitigation potential between 34 to 364 million tons of CO2 emissions a year in 2050, report says

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report produced by researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has major implications for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation. It is the first comprehensive report of its kind since 2005 focused on agriculture and forestry management strategies from now until 2050.

“The agriculture and forestry sectors play a critical role in greenhouse gas reduction efforts,” said Christopher Wade, a natural resource economist at RTI and co-author of the report. “Recent federal policies have recognized the value of land-based strategies, and our analysis offers an assessment of the cost-effective composition of land-based mitigation activities under a handful of scenarios.”

The report projects that the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed by U.S. land is expected to be more than what it releases into the air — referred to as net sink — until around the middle of this century. However, emissions from land use are predicted to go up in the future without specific policies aimed at greenhouse gas reductions, which could include the implementation of anaerobic digesters in livestock production systems, application of nitrification inhibitors, reduced fertilizer applications, changes in timber harvest schedules and afforestation activities.

This EPA technical report contributes to the science and understanding of agriculture and forestry GHG mitigation potential through the unique approach of taking into account opportunity costs and tradeoffs, which many studies in this space do not include. “Importantly, policymakers should ensure that federal funding is directed to the agricultural and forestry sectors—not one or the other,” added Wade. “Investments in the agricultural sector will result in more immediate emissions reductions, while investments in forestry activities will take longer to yield results but provide the majority of sequestration. Taken together, both sectors can complement each other in the effort to mitigate greenhouse gases.”

The RTI-led report builds on work presented in the 2005 EPA report “Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Potential in U.S. Forestry and Agriculture” and integrates new modeling tools and frameworks to provide an updated perspective on abatement options for U.S. policymakers.

Read the full 2024 report

Learn more about RTI’s research on greenhouse gas emissions