A special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in wealthy countries like ours.
The United States depends on its vast agricultural and forest lands for a host of amenities, including food, fiber, clean water — and mitigating climate change. These working lands, many of which are already degraded, are under unprecedented stress from rising temperatures and extreme weather. We need a climate plan for agriculture.
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As it stands, agriculture policy consists mainly of the farm bill, a rambling package of various policies and subsidies that Congress renews every five years or so. Although essential, given the breadth of issues the farm bill touches (the nutrition safety net, the farm safety net, conservation and rural development), it has evolved as an accretion of programs.
In other words, the law has no overarching policy framework or purpose and, by design, turns a blind eye to the reality of climate change. As a result, despite spending billions of dollars, we have failed to lay the groundwork for a food-secure future and a climate resilient rural United States. The environmental burden of food and fiber production will only intensify as the global population swells to nearly 10 billion by 2050.