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Policy Alum Instrumental in USDA's New Report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Agriculture and Forestry

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With climate change a matter of global concern, the significant impact of greenhouse gas emissions shapes policy decisions, promotes sustainable practices and calls for worldwide cooperation to confront this urgent issue. In an effort to address climate change through evidence-based policy, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a comprehensive report that provides the methods needed to quantify greenhouse gas fluxes from agriculture and forestry systems. The report was the result of four years of meticulous research and collaboration by a team of more than 60 authors, including USDA scientists, university researchers, and experts from non-government environmental organizations and research institutions, led by agricultural economist and USDA project manager Wes Hanson MPP ’18.

Hanson shared insights into the project's scope and challenges. “The most difficult challenge I typically face on any project, this one included, is doing as much as you can under the time and budget constraints unique to that project,” Hanson remarked. “The team did a tremendous amount of planning before ever setting pen to paper, including detailed priorities for chapter updates that were informed by email and phone interviews with dozens of scientists, and a meta-analysis of published literature that informed our updates to the quantification methods within each chapter.”

Reflecting on his time at SPP specializing in environmental and energy policy, Hanson highlighted the invaluable skills he learned, including “a great deal of practical knowledge about governmental functions, solving tough policy problems with limited time and resources and working with external stakeholders who have a wide array of opinions, goals and objectives.” With the USDA, some of Hanson’s daily tasks involve co-leading USDA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Assessment Program, coordinating work on climate change across the Department and responding promptly to inquiries from USDA leadership, Congress and the White House. He also leads or participates in interagency efforts on climate change, covering issues like greenhouse gas modeling, land use change and biofuel policy. He continued, “I still rely on many of the frameworks we discussed at SPP, like finding areas of commonality to bridge cultural divides.”

Hanson credits his preparedness for his role at USDA largely to courses taught by Professor Betty Duke. Specifically, Duke's teachings on public administration, practicing public policy, and governance, leadership, management and accountability were instrumental in shaping Hanson's approach to his work. These courses challenged him to think like a government executive, confronting complex issues without clear-cut solutions, often based on real-world scenarios. 

Recognizing the significant influence of Professors Nathan Hultman and Rosina Bierbaum, Hanson noted their extensive experience from their work with the federal government. “Their courses,” said Hanson, “made me well prepared for the work I do now, which often involves providing detailed, accurate and defensible answers to climate change-related questions under tight time constraints.”

Despite the perception that climate change is a divisive issue, Hanson points to the agricultural sector as a bright spot, as it is an area where collaboration is occurring across a diverse set of stakeholders. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are experiencing the firsthand impacts of climate change and are motivated to address the issue. 

In addition to quantifying greenhouse gas emissions, the USDA report also provides a roadmap for policymakers to promote sustainable agricultural practices. Hanson emphasized the report's role in guiding future policy decisions, stating, “While this report does not directly recommend the adoption of specific agricultural management practices, it provides a comprehensive set of quantification methods that can be used to assess the benefits of climate-smart practices.”

Looking ahead, Hanson envisions utilizing the findings in the report to drive actionable initiatives at both federal and state levels. “The ways this report can be leveraged are numerous," he asserted. "It intersects directly with climate-smart agricultural initiatives underway at USDA, and the updated methods are already being incorporated into COMET-farm, a farm-scale tool that helps users estimate the greenhouse gas benefits of a variety of agricultural practices.”

Policymakers advocate for sustainable land management practices as climate change continues to create significant challenges to agriculture. The science-based methods in this report are a key component of evidence-based policymaking, and are a critical tool in addressing such pressing global concerns.

For Media Inquiries:
Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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