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Vilsack Addresses the Role of Agriculture in Climate Change

Agriculture plays a significant role in the ongoing climate change talks here in Copenhagen. During a day-long meeting at the University here, “Agriculture and Rural Development Day”, Secretary Vilsack met with academics, scientists and other world leaders to plan ways to incorporate agriculture into the post-Copenhagen climate agenda.

Because world agriculture is a substantial factor in climate change, it must also play a large role in mitigating the resulting effects. It is estimated that agriculture is responsible for about 15 percent of emissions and deforestation contributes another 17 percent, so it’s difficult to see any way to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere without acting to address emissions and carbon sequestration on agricultural and forestlands.

Speaking at the meeting, the Secretary raised the example of the late Nobel Prize winning agronomist Norman Borlaug, the father of the green revolution, and discussed how the world can turn to his principles to refine its research efforts to meet the challenges posed by climate change.

We need, said the Secretary, to focus on climate change research so that the world’s farmers will get information on a local scale. Researchers must better understand how climate change affects pests, pathogens, insects and weeds. We also must look at research as a tool to make sure our food production system meets our needs as a society.

Also, the world must adapt to climate change by developing crop and livestock systems that are resilient, and can resist temperature extremes. Farmers and ranchers will need to be more efficient when using water resources.

Additionally, mitigation of climate change can be looked on, not simply as a problem but as an opportunity. American farmers can gain from new markets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, develop renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. To capture these opportunities, farmers and land owners will need to rethink their business models and look at the opportunity to increase productivity as a way to reduce pressure on the land and remove one driver of deforestation.

One of the most important messages Secretary Vilsack is bringing to Copenhagen is that the United States is serious about climate change. President Obama has made it a top priority and this administration is doing more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than ever before, both by supporting domestic policies and by engaging actively in international climate change negotiations. But actions by developed nations like ours are not enough. Climate change is a global challenge and demands a global solution. In order to preserve a safe and livable planet, developing countries will need to play a globally responsible role along with the U.S. in the climate negotiations.

Read the The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems report here.

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