Latest National Assessment Shows Ag, Forestry Needed in Mitigating Climate Change

A U.S. government report released last Friday adds even more certainty to the assertion that human activities play a principle role in climate change and that damages from the growing environmental threat are happening now.

What was released Friday, is the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) which serves as Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and assesses the science of climate change with a focus on the United States, now and in the future. This report was authored by a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee.

The report, which is the fourth in an ongoing series of assessments, and which is updated every four years, was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. It was issued last Friday by 13 federal agencies, including USDA, EPA and NASA.

The assessment makes clear that the negative impacts of climate change are occurring now, occurring as temperatures have risen in recent decades to the warmest in the history of modern civilization.

As outlined in the assessment heatwaves have become more frequent in the United States since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. Recent record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future for the United States, as annual average temperatures continue to rise. The annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) from 1901 through 2016. From now until 2050, annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the average registered from 1976 through 2005, “under all plausible future climate scenarios.”

The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate changes, leading to further challenges to regional ecosystems.

Annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States and these trends are expected to continue. As the temperatures increase, extensive drought may become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.

Of course, the assessment makes clear that the magnitude of climate change in the future will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) that are emitted globally.

“Without major reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature relative to preindustrial times could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or more by the end of this century,” the assessment warns, adding that with significant reductions in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the absolute most, global scientists say, before permanent catastrophic impacts result.

The assessment is a call to action. Despite an administration that leans heavily toward policies favoring emission-producing fossil fuels – especially coal – hundreds of representatives from U.S. corporations, universities, state governments, clean energy advocacy groups and other stakeholder interests have joined with world leaders in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP23) being held this week and next. Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP23 participants aim to build on the steps outlined by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In response to these challenges which combine to create a major threat multiplier to the agricultural sector, the North American Climate Smart Agricultural Alliance (NACSAA) – an initiative launched in 2015 by 25x’25’s parent organization, Solutions from the Land (SfL) – is assisting its members in advancing the three pillars of climate smart agriculture – sustainable intensification of production; actions that can be taken to build resiliency; and production systems that allow farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously improve profitability. Adaptive management strategies that the Alliance will examine include, among others, conservation systems like reduced tillage, cover crops, gypsum, and variable rate fertilizer technologies that reduce costs and improve soil health through the creation of additional microbial activity below the surface; risk management tools; infrastructure modifications and research priorities that will help producers maintain productivity in light of changing climatic conditions.

Next month in Rome at the annual forum of the Global Alliance of Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA), representatives of nations from across the globe, including SfL Chairman Fred Yoder and SfL President Ernie Shea, will share progress being made in North America to adapt to changing climatic conditions and deliver high value mitigation services from agricultural landscapes. The sequestration of carbon in soil through conservation tillage and cover crops, the judicious use of fertilizers to improve sustainability and soil carbon retention, and the reduction of GHG emissions provided by biofuels are among the assets that the agriculture and forestry sectors deliver in mitigating climate change.

Stakeholders are urged to join NACSAA in calling on policy makers and leaders – whether it’s in Bonn at COP23 or here at home – to embrace and scale up climate smart agriculture systems and practices, so the full range of goods and services delivered from the land can be realized.


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