An action-oriented scientific agenda for tackling global climate change and its impacts on agriculture emerged from the international, three-day Climate-Smart Agriculture Conference, which drew more than 300 participants last week to the University of California, Davis.
Conference participants, who represented 34 nations on six continents, grappled with the need to dramatically ramp up agricultural production to feed a world that will tip the scales at more than 9 billion people by the middle of the century -- a task severely complicated by global climate change. By the end of the conference, they had begun to sketch a roadmap to get there.
Highlights of the conference included strongly voiced commitments from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and Undersecretary Catherine Woteki to pursue solutions to climate-change impacts for agriculture in the U.S. and abroad.
“Climate change, and particularly its impacts on agriculture, present the world with a very difficult challenge,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said during the final session of the conference. “We all know that the planet is getting warmer, the seas are rising, and snowpack patterns have been changing. Fresh, reliable water is becoming scarcer.
“Of all the sectors of the earth that must adapt and mitigate for climate change, none is more susceptible than agriculture -- and none more crucial,” Katehi said.
The chancellor stressed that tradeoffs between increased food production and environmental protection will be needed as the global population expands and people become more prosperous -- increasing per capita demand for food.
Developed in coordination with the World Bank and the Dutch ministry, the conference was designed to establish scientific priorities, building upon the broad science and policy agenda established during a 2011 international meeting on climate-smart agriculture in the Netherlands.
The conference examined farm and food systems, land use and ecosystem issues, and policies. The goal: Make sure that science translates into practices that will ensure food security, alleviate poverty and provide multiple ecosystem benefits.
Due to the steep trajectory of global population growth, experts project that the world will have to increase food production by at least 70 percent by 2050. Climate change is anticipated to make that challenge all the more daunting by reducing food crop yields throughout the next 50 years by 16 percent worldwide and by 28 percent in Africa.
With these challenges in mind, conference participants used the three days of talks, panel discussions and informal conversations to better focus the priorities for research into climate-smart agriculture. As the meeting was drawing to a close, the following recommendations began to take shape:
- Farmers, land managers, livestock producers and fishers should be involved in making decisions about sustainable development, alleviating poverty and climate-smart agriculture.
- Research that draws on many different disciplines and involves multiple stakeholders at many different scales is essential for reducing poverty, greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to climate change.
- Markets and financial mechanisms can support farming practices that lessen and adapt to climate change, as well as food systems that increase food distribution and reduce waste.
- Greater emphasis on landscape and regional analysis will reveal tradeoffs as well as synergies between various climate-driven changes.
- Innovation and transformative changes in behavior, plus novel science-policy partnerships at local and global scales, are crucial for both mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts.
- The impact of climate and extreme weather events on migration from rural to urban communities needs to be better quantified in order to develop strategies for promoting healthier food chains.
Conference leaders began making tentative plans to convene the next Climate-Smart Agriculture Conference in 2015 in Montpellier, France.
In addition, another climate-focused international meeting, the Third Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, will be held in December 2013 in South Africa.
Meanwhile at UC Davis, Katehi said, research on climate-smart agriculture will continue in collaboration with the global community:
“We at UC Davis are committed to remaining engaged in this crucial global dialogue, and look forward to participating in future efforts to continue laying the groundwork for the policy and research breakthroughs that will bring us tangible solutions.”