September 17, 2015
On Tuesday, September 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a draft of the interagency assessment report, “Climate Change, Global Food Security, and the U.S. Food System” in the Federal Register. USDA is requesting input from the public through October 8, and will publish the final report online when it becomes available.
While the report itself is global in scope, its findings address the pressing issue of how climate change will affect the U.S. food system. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) continues to advocate that this critical nexus between climate change and agriculture must be addressed through farm bill conservation programs, including transition to sustainable and organic systems, as well as scientific assessments including this recently released report.
The new report is a consensus-based assessment by a team of technical experts based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Its final publication will serve as a valuable resource to support updates to USDA conservation programs as well as new tools for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Food Security and Climate Change
The draft report outlines the four components of food security – availability, access, utilization, and stability, ultimately concluding that climate change is very likely to affect global, regional, and local food security. Climate change will disrupt food availability, decrease access to food, and make utilization even more difficult. Stability is defined as the absence of fluctuation in availability, access, and utilization, and a changing climate has significant implications for this component of food security according to the report.
Effective Climate Change Adaptation
In order to address continued climate instability, effective climate change adaptation can reduce food system vulnerability to climate change and reduce detrimental effects on food security. Adaptation through specific agricultural practices requires science-based climate projections, and, to investigate and predict human-induced climate change, the report uses projections of future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other anthropogenic drivers of change, including land-use change, as inputs to climate model calculations and models.
The agricultural sector has a strong record of adapting to changing conditions, and the report notes that the widespread consequences of climate change will continue put pressure on farmers and ranchers to adapt.
Climate-related pressures can already be seen in changes in reliable crop-growing days, more variable seasonal rainfall, temperature stress, shifting pest and disease patterns, and an increased frequency of extreme events. As a result, the stability of agricultural production is likely to become even more unpredictable over time and across geographic regions, and increasingly demand that producers adapt their agricultural practices to a changing climate.
Agriculture’s Role in Mitigation
Changes in agricultural practices not only help farmers and ranchers adapt to the consequences of GHG emissions, but also mitigate them. Low external input, biologically diverse agricultural systems, including sustainable and organic agriculture and crop-livestock integrating farming systems, play an important role in addressing climate change. In addition to their ability to reduce emissions and sequester carbon, these systems produce numerous co-benefits that help farmers build resilient and viable systems of production.
USDA offers a wide range of conservation, research, and technical tools with which producers can address a changing climate.
Appropriators Threaten Critical “Climate Toolbox”
Unfortunately, despite the clear need to expand the tools with which producers can adapt to and mitigate climate change, Congressional appropriators continue to threaten to slash mandatory funding from the very programs that support climate-resilient agricultural systems.
The House’s proposed agriculture funding bill for fiscal year (FY) 2016 cuts the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by nearly 23 percent, from 10 million acres to 7.74 million acres, and it cuts the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by 18 percent. While the Senate’s bill preserves funding for CSP, it includes a cut to EQIP that is slightly larger than that proposed in the House bill.
CSP and EQIP provide support for producers to implement and expand practices such as rotational grazing, nutrient management, and water conservation, which are critical within efforts to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. As USDA’s report so clearly illustrates, the pressures producers face from climate instability will continue to grow. Given that climate change will disrupt food availability and decrease access to food, it is irresponsible for appropriators to cut the programs that support climate change adaptation and mitigation.
In addition to the cuts to mandatory funding in the agriculture appropriations bills, other spending bills include a number of anti-environment riders relevant to climate change. A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation would permanently prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from requiring the reporting of GHG emissions from manure management systems, while a rider in the House Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill would block any implementation of the National Climate Assessment, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The Senate’s Interior and Environment appropriation would also prevent federal agencies form considering GHG or climate change in decisions made under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Congress is now scrambling to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) by September 30 to keep the government running, and NSAC will continue to oppose conservation cuts and policy riders in a year-end “omnibus” appropriations bill that follows to stitch all 12 appropriations bills together.
Stay tuned for continued updates on funding for these critical programs that support climate change resilience, and submit comments on USDA’s draft report on climate change and food security up until October 8.