Secretary Vilsack notes challenge in mitigating impact of climate change on food security

by Ron Sterk
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Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack

PARIS — U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack cited numerous actions by the U.S. government and the private sector and called for global cooperation in efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change on food security in coming years in a Dec. 2 speech at a Field to Market event during the Conference of Parties (COP-21) Paris Climate Conference.

“Never before has agriculture faced challenges of this magnitude,” Mr. Vilsack said in remarks prepared for delivery at the side event, which was hosted by Business for Social Responsibility, PepsiCo and Field to Market. He thanked leaders of major food companies for attending the event.

“By being here you have demonstrated that you understand that climate change is a whole supply chain issue that affects your business inputs, your end product and your customers: the growing world population who depend on you and on farmers for a healthy, safe, sufficient and affordable supply of food.”

Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture includes more than 85 members for private and public sectors representing all aspects of U.S. agriculture with the focus of defining, measuring and advancing the sustainability of food, fiber and fuel production.

“As food suppliers, you know that a changing climate continues to impact the amount of water available to farmers to grow grains, protein and produce,” Mr. Vilsack said. “Climate change impacts the cost of fuel and the transportation choices you make to move those items to processing facilities and grocery stores. How you choose to manage those impacts at every step of the way affects the end quality of your product, your profitability, your employees, your longevity as a business and more so than ever before, how the public views your company.

“We recognize that our actions alone will not solve the complex problem of climate change. To be effective, we will need to build confidence and encourage others to step forward. And we’ll need to be able to document that our actions are making a real difference on the ground.

“Achieving food security in the face of climate change will not be a short-term task, and it won’t be simple. That’s why it is so critical that we bring together entities from across the world — governments, businesses, farm organizations, civil society groups, research bodies and inter-government entities — to work together to prepare agriculture for new challenges, and thereby put our food supply on a strong footing in the years to come.

“We’ve all seen the statistics: nine billion people by 2050. Feeding these new citizens will require at least a 60% increase in agricultural productivity. We must do all of this in the face of climate change that is threatening the productivity and profitability of our farms, ranches and forests.”

Mr. Vilsack said the Obama administration on Dec. 2 released a report on climate change, natural resources and the land sector showing how U.S. government agencies were making progress toward climate mitigation and resilience goals, including the U.S.D.A.’s efforts to improve greenhouse gas metrics. President Obama has pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Mr. Vilsack also cited the U.S.D.A.’s release of 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry earlier in the year that he said was an “ambitious, voluntary strategy that rewards and builds on the good work of farmers, ranchers and foresters.” The plan uses existing U.S.D.A. programs to provide financial and technical assistance to support producers to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate clean renewable energy and meet an ambitious goal of increasing carbon sequestration.

Mr. Vilsack also this week released a major study titled Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System, which identifies the risks posed by climate change to global food security and the challenges faced by farmers and consumers in adapting to changing climate conditions.
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