Agriculture Can Play Huge Role in Meeting Climate Change Goals

Pope Francis has brought a strong message to the United States this week with a call to governments around the world to forcefully combat climate change. In speeches made at the White House, before Congress today and Friday, when he is set to address the UN General Assembly, the pontiff is stressing that climate change is linked to virtually all aspects of quality of life.

He understands that in addition to rising temperatures, the changing climate will also raise sea levels, alter weather patterns, result in agricultural losses, degrade water quality and access, reduce biodiversity and potentially force massive migrations and, with that, civil unrest.

His remarks to the UN this week comes as representatives there prepare to adopt 17 major goals aimed at putting an end to hunger and poverty, while ensuring access to clean water and clean energy. One of the goals specifically addresses climate change, which will be taken on in an international agreement expected to be adopted later this year. Pope Francis and UN officials all agree that international sustainable development goals aimed at ensuring food security and civil stability is not possible without a climate agreement.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement issued this week for Climate Week NYC, an annual event that draws global leaders in business, government, and society seeking a low- or no-carbon future, “it is why it is essential that governments meeting in Paris in December adopt a universally agreed framework for taking action on climate change. A meaningful climate agreement in Paris must signal a decisive move toward a low-carbon, clean energy future and support more resilient communities, cities and countries.”

Given the wide range of environmental and economic areas touched by climate change, the negotiations currently underway in anticipation of the international summit in Paris are covering an equally broad range of areas. Among those areas of consideration are the role of forests and the carbon sinks they provide in helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, little attention is being given to the role agriculture can play in curbing changes to our climate, a shortfall that is unfortunate given the impacts rising temperatures and volatile weather will have on our ability to produce food. A 2015 agreement should acknowledge the importance of agriculture for food security and livelihoods and the critical pathway the sector offers in helping meet global adaptation and mitigation goals.

A 2015 agreement should authorize a work plan geared towards deploying finance, technical inputs and capacity building to support ambitious actions by farmers and the agricultural sector to achieve food security through adaptation and mitigation. There are many existing solutions to some of the known challenges of climate change that can be scaled up, including improved soil and water management practices.

A critical role for agriculture in combatting climate change is the production of biofuels, which reduce greenhouse emissions by anywhere from 35-95 percent when compared to gasoline or diesel fuel, depending upon the biofuel’s feedstock.

Two years ago, the White House announced a comprehensive plan to address climate change, including a broad array of opportunities for U.S. agriculture to help meet the challenges posed by changing conditions. The plan also presented prospects of increased revenues through the innovation the sectors provide in land and resource management.

Despite recent questionable EPA proposals to reduce short-term biofuel blending requirements under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, it’s important to remember the White House plan’s acknowledgment of the important role biofuels “play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Growing feedstocks for low-emission transportation fuels is one of many weapons agriculture can make available in the fight against climate change. It is an arsenal that international negotiators should underscore when developing their plans for nations to mitigate and adapt to changing weather conditions. The agriculture sector can deliver the near-term, high-value and low-cost solutions that only farmers and ranchers can deliver. In order to do so, however, an accounting framework and properly designed enabling policies must be in place. It is critical for agricultural leaders to get actively involved in the development of these crucial tools and ensure the sector has a meaningful seat at the negotiating table.

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