A gathering this week in Washington, DC, of leaders from more than 30 leading farm and sustainability organizations from across the continent has reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the adaptive capacity of North American agriculture. The meeting, held at the American Farm Bureau Federation headquarters, marked a revitalization of the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), which provides a platform for engagement, dialogue, knowledge sharing and application of climate science to the agriculture and forestry sectors.
NACSAA, an initiative of Solutions from the Land (the parent organization of 25x’25), has three complementing strategies: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and livelihoods; 2) enhancing adaptive capacity and improving resilience; and 3) delivering ecosystem services, sequestering carbon, and reducing and/or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.
Sponsored by the advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility, Tuesday’s session drew together agriculture and forestry leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico who share the mission of making our food, feed and fiber production systems resilient to changes in our climate while intensifying production levels in the face of a growing global population.
Equally important, these farm and forestry leaders also renewed their commitment to the role of agriculture and forestry in significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – which most scientists say is a major contributor to climate change – through methane capture, soil carbon sequestration and biofuels (including biofuels for transportation and woody biomass for power) that burn more cleanly than fossil fuels.
The people in Tuesday’s meeting have the first-hand knowledge and experience to address the challenges that science is telling us to expect.
As documented in the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report (Vol I), record-setting hot years are projected to become common in the near future; the incidence of large wildfires like those that gripped California in recent months has grown since the early 1980s and is projected to further increase; annual trends toward earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack that are already affecting water resources in the western United States are expected to continue; and extensive drought is likely to become a persistently recurring threat in the years ahead.
This week’s meeting was held in large part to reinforce the role of climate-smart agriculture and help ensure U.S. farm and forestry interests remain a strong player in shaping global plans to address climate-related challenges and deliver solutions to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In November, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change announced the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, a two-year initiative charged with exploring and recommending “bold actions” agriculture and forestry can undertake to meet climate, adaptation and food security challenges, and presenting those strategies at the next UN climate meeting in 2020.
In their efforts to secure a place at the negotiating table now and in 2020, NACSAA members can cite federal government data showing that U.S. working lands have been sequestering much more carbon than they emit (a net “carbon sink”) for the last three decades. There are numerous projects at work reinforcing how biofuels can reduce emissions, including a University of Florida initiative to identify and deploy regionally adapted carinata (an oilseed member of the mustard family) as the basis of a biobased jet fuel; and a Washington State University project that takes a holistic approach to building a supply chain within the Northwest U.S. based on using forest harvest residuals to make aviation biofuel.
NACSAA members will urge policy makers at all levels to support programs that not only prepare agriculture and forestry for climate change, but enhance the sector’s role in mitigating it. As other nation’s make dealing with climate change a priority, U.S. interests must overcome the policy constraints at the federal level, knowing full well that failing to do so endangers the U.S. position in foreign agriculture and forestry trade and commodity markets.
The impacts wrought by climate change that scientists predict will happen are already underway. In 2017, natural disasters caused $306 billion in damage across the nation. The United States is the world’s biggest breadbasket, but it is not immune to the impacts of a changing climate. We urge all stakeholders – be they farmers, foresters or renewable energy developers – to follow NACSAA’s lead and help develop the enabling policies and initiatives that will ensure the resilience of our food, feed and fiber production, and innovate the land-based strategies that will nullify the effects of changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events.