U.S. Climate Alliance Report Finds Reforestation, Afforestation, and Manure Methane Management Offer Significant Economic and Environmental Health Benefits While Addressing Climate Change

February 17, 2022

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) today announced the findings of a U.S. Climate Alliance (USCA) report titled “Economic Impacts of Investing in Climate Mitigation in New York Forests and Agriculture [PDF].” The report found that investments in reforestation, afforestation, and dairy farm manure methane management in New York would provide significant contributions to rural economies, greenhouse gas mitigation, and ecosystem health. Today’s announcement supports the state’s nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050.

NYSERDA President and CEO and Climate Action Council Co-Chair Doreen M. Harris said, “As we seek all means possible to combat climate change, the findings of the U.S. Climate Alliance report show opportunities to cost-effectively reduce harmful emissions while also stimulating local economies and ensuring the health of the State’s beautiful natural environment. This assessment and the resulting data will help inform our targeted and strategic investments in the State’s clean green future as part of the State’s comprehensive decarbonization efforts.”

DEC Commissioner and Climate Action Council Co-Chair Basil Seggos said, “Agriculture and forestry are vital to New York’s environment, economy, and quality of life. As part of our efforts to reduce emissions in New York, converting lands to forests, bringing back former forests, and better managing methane from dairy farm manure are critical to improving public health and sustaining rural economies. The U.S. Climate Alliance report demonstrates that investing in mitigation strategies like these will benefit our farms, forests, and public health while advancing New York’s nation-leading goals to reduce climate-altering emissions.”

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “New York’s farmers are known nationally for their environmental stewardship and have long been dedicated to defending our land and water. The findings of the U.S. Climate Alliance report released today illustrate how smart methane management practices will further our farmers’ work to protect the environment, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and will bring increased economic benefits to farms and rural communities. These practices will help New York State continue to lead the way in the United States’ efforts to tackle climate change.”

The study by RTI International, sponsored by USCA for New York State, found that through three priority actions that will increase and improve forest growth and better manage methane gas resulting from manure, New York State could abate 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and over the next decade and could support $188 million in annual wages for more than 6,100 full time employees.

Key findings include:

  • Planting trees and capturing manure methane can reduce New York’s total greenhouse gas emissions and increase the removal rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) with most of the economic benefits accruing in New York’s rural communities.
  • Afforestation: By growing forests on approximately 2.4 million acres of unforested lands, New York can cost-effectively remove excess carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and support more than 4,600 full-time equivalent jobs over the coming decade.
  • Reforestation: By replanting trees on an additional 1.1 million acres of poorly stocked forest lands, New York can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the environment and support approximately 1,175 jobs over the coming decade.
  • Manure Methane Management: Covering and flaring in manure management is one of New York’s most cost-effective options for the agricultural sector and can lessen methane from 450 New York dairy farms, while also providing water quality, and other benefits. Implementation of this measure could also support nearly 350 jobs over the next decade.

U.S. Climate Alliance Acting Executive Director and Policy Director Taryn Finnessey said, “When we sequester more carbon in our forests and reduce methane emissions on our farms, we create jobs, grow our rural economies, and build healthier communities and ecosystems. New York is well positioned to benefit from these climate actions.”

Jared Woollacott, lead author on the study and Research Economist at RTI said, “New York has over 3 billion dollars of climate action potential throughout its rural communities. Planting trees and covering and flaring methane from dairy cow manure storage can support over 6,000 jobs in the coming decade while mitigating over 13 million tons of CO2-equivalent per year. Identifying win-win opportunities like these that improve the climate and support economic development, especially in rural areas, are an essential part of climate action planning.”

Expected nonmarket benefits of these climate actions include:

  • Improved air and water quality;
  • Reduced flood risk;
  • Increased opportunity for recreation;
  • Support for wildlife habitats; and
  • Timber and renewable energy options.

The strategies were selected based on priorities identified in the State’s Climate Action Council Agriculture and Forestry Advisory Panel, the level of GHG reduction potential, and data availability for modeling at the county level. The report results are intended to inform future investments, policies, partnerships and enable comparison of alternative or novel approaches to the current state of practice. Draft results were integrated with the Jobs Study [PDF] for the Climate Action Council’s Just Transition Working Group. The assessment was supported by the U.S. Climate Alliance through a competitive solicitation with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

New York State's Nation-Leading Climate Act

New York State's nation-leading climate agenda is the most aggressive climate and clean energy initiative in the nation, calling for an orderly and just transition to clean energy that creates jobs and continues fostering a green economy as New York State recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Enshrined into law through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York is on a path to achieve its mandated goal of a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040, including 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030, and to reach economy wide carbon neutrality. It builds on New York's unprecedented investments to ramp-up clean energy including over $33 billion in 102 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the state, $6.8 billion to reduce buildings emissions, $1.8 billion to scale up solar, more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, and over $1.6 billion in NY Green Bank commitments. Combined, these investments are supporting nearly 158,000 jobs in New York's clean energy sector in 2020, a 2,100 percent growth in the distributed solar sector since 2011 and a commitment to develop 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035. Under the Climate Act, New York will build on this progress and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, while ensuring that at least 35 percent with a goal of 40 percent of the benefits of clean energy investments are directed to disadvantaged communities, and advance progress towards the state's 2025 energy efficiency target of reducing on-site energy consumption by 185 trillion BTUs of end-use energy savings.