June 26, 2015
Climate change has enormous implications for farmers and ranchers across the country, and, this week, several announcements provided new climate change adaptation and mitigation information for agriculture.
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, sustainable and organic systems, as well as with the support of resources like those made available this week.
Climate Change Adaptation
On Monday June 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced additional steps it is taking to integrate climate change adaptation into its programs and operations. The announcement explained that the updated USDA Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation (Departmental Regulation 1070-001) recognizes that climate change has consequences for food production, crop yields, and forests and grasslands, all of which directly affect the economic well-being of individuals.
“Climate change adaptation is a critical component of climate change and a complement to mitigation planning. Both are required to address the causes, consequences and potential benefits of climate change. USDA is taking a leadership role with climate adaptation planning to safeguard a resilient, healthy, and prosperous Nation in the face of changing climate.”
The update specifically addresses integrating climate change adaptation into USDA programs and policies, identifying how to evaluate progress in climate change adaptation, the incorporation of climate resilient decision making tools, and long-term research priorities.
Climate Hubs Support Adaptation
USDA’s climate change adaptation strategy also includes a commitment to developing the next generation of regional climate solutions through USDA’s Climate Hubs for risk Adaptation and Mitigation, established in 2014 to deliver science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and resource managers. The hubs enable climate-informed decision-making to address the increased risks associated with a changing climate.
On Monday, July 23, the Northeast Regional Climate Hub, which covers Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia published a vulnerability assessment. The Vulnerability Assessment is based on knowledge of agricultural susceptibility to climate variability in the Northeast and will serve as a guide to focus future adaptation work.
The Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado) released a Vulnerability Assessment in May, which addressed the region’s high diversity of land use types, which include the largest remaining tracts of native rangeland in North America. The Midwest and Northern Forests Regional Climate Hub released their vulnerability assessment in March.
Vulnerability assessments are an important first step in establishing a “snapshot” of current climate vulnerabilities, and they provide region-specific strategies to increase the resilience of a region’s working lands.
Climate Change Mitigation
While adaptation seeks to lower the risks posed by the consequences of climate change, mitigation addresses the root causes of climate change – ultimately seeking to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House, Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action, provides estimates of the physical and financial benefits to the U.S. of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The report is based on findings from the Climate Change Impacts and Risks Analysis (CIRA) project, which compares a future in with significant climate action to a future in which current emissions continue to rise.
Section 7 of the report specifically examines climate change impacts on the agriculture sector using biophysical and economic models, demonstrating that a lack of global action will bring decreased crop yields, adverse effects on crop and food prices, and negative economic welfare impacts for the agriculture sector. These impacts are considered for both irrigated and non-irrigated crops, with results unsurprisingly more dramatic for irrigated production.
House Draft Agriculture Spending Bill Disregards Climate
Finally, we can’t ignore the fact that these climate reports and resources follow the passage of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s spending bill, which among several policy riders, includes language that would prohibit the upcoming new dietary guidelines from including any sustainability or climate considerations. The bill also includes cuts the two farm bill conservation programs that help farmers build soil health and combat climate change – Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program — by 23 and 18 percent, respectively.
NSAC opposes those provisions of the subcommittee’s bill. We will continue to stand up for policies and programs that address the pressing linkage between climate and agriculture.