Today starts a two-day “Climate Action 2016” summit in Washington that will bring together government, business and environmental leaders from around the globe “to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to climate implementation.”
In other words, it’s a “rubber-meets-the-road” situation where world leaders are meeting to ensure real action on climate change is generated from the Paris climate agreement negotiated in Paris last December and formally signed by more than 170 countries in New York City last month.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Fred Yoder, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association and a board member with Solutions from the Land (SfL), there appear to be no U.S. farmers or agricultural producer group leaders participating in this week’s summit. And that underscores a gap in strategy that global leaders taking on climate change need to address. Any meaningful efforts to stem the rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are stoking global temperatures need the help of farmers and farm groups.
As laid out by the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA), an SfL-sponsored initiative, agriculture can offer major reductions in GHGs through methane capture, soil carbon sequestration and biofuels that burn more cleanly than fossil fuels.
To effectively implement the measures needed to stem climate change, planners must take a collaborative approach. This week’s summit is sponsored by global players like the United Nations and the World Bank, who bring the prestige and political weight necessary to make sure the intent to address climate change is taken seriously. But we would hope that these prominent institutions, and other hosts and sponsors, avoid what many might see as a top-down approach in climate planning and empower and incorporate the input of all constituencies to insure success, particularly those who directly manage land resources.
And agriculture should be one of those constituencies. The world is at a critical stage in what will be a mammoth effort needed to curb climatic changes that can have harsh impacts on the quality of life around the world. With the real work now starting to take place, it’s important that attention is focused on helping farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions and implement practices and provide solutions that will make impactful and measurable contributions in sequestering and reducing GHGs, and increasing resilience of our food supply.
The agriculture sector offers a wide scope of mitigation services. There is a vast potential for carbon sequestration through practices like conservation tillage and cover crops, improved grazing systems, the restoration of degraded agricultural soils and grasslands, agroforestry and farm forestry.
Agriculture also offers the reduced GHG emissions provided by biofuels when compared to petroleum based fuels. Producers are making more efficient use of resources like applied nutrients. Farmers are also producing other types of renewable energy production and as well as putting energy efficiency measures in place. Moreover, most of these mitigation contributions also provide numerous benefits to other important values such as securing water sources and protecting biodiversity.
While most of the discussion about agriculture’s role in climate change to date has been narrowly focused on actions the sector can take to reduce direct GHG emissions, it’s also important to emphasize adaptation. Major efforts are needed to assist the sector in adopting new production and conservation practices, and implementing risk management strategies that improve resiliency and buffer farm operations from increasingly erratic and volatile weather.
We also urge climate strategists to take a wide “landscape” approach in their planning. Avoid the easier path that focuses on single points of crisis. Instead, build broad coalitions of land managers, regulators, scientists, and civil society around agro-forest ecosystems or landscapes (the U.S. Corn Belt, for example) to ensure the continued production of essential food, feed, fiber and energy, all while improving the delivery of environmental and economic values from the land.
This multi-stakeholder approach – as demonstrated by SfL’s Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge and the North Carolina Agriculture and Forestry Adaptation Work Group (NC ADAPT) – should be the foundation for advancing land use and management policies that not only meet climate change targets, but biodiversity, food production and water quality objectives as well.
The apparent absence of farmers in the climate summit taking place this week is a disappointment. But it’s not at all too late for global leaders to recognize the wide array of opportunities for additional climate solutions from agriculture. It is time to take advantage of them.