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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Adapting to climate change for natural resources, food and fiber

Donald F. Boesch
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

The science is compelling that climate change is occurring, is caused predominantly by human activities, and poses serious risks to humans and the biosphere that support us. Agriculture is a significant contributor to anthropogenic climate change, responsible directly for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions and contributing additionally through land-use changes associated with food and fiber production. Additionally, agricultural security is threatened by warming, reduced or variable soil moisture, and extreme events associated with climate change at the very same time that there is growing demand for food and fiber to support the growing world population and improve lives. The twin challenge for agriculture, then, is both to contribute to efforts to reduce the effects of climate change through reducing emissions and to adapt to the changing climate with sufficient and more efficient production.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released the portion of its Fifth Assessment that addresses the physical science basis. Although the portion of the assessment addressing impacts, adaptation and vulnerability will not be released until March, 2014, the physical science assessment already provides new insights and improved projections that can begin to inform adaptation strategies, including in agriculture.

Maryland has been among the most progressive states in addressing the climate change challenge. A Climate Action Plan has been developed and legislation enacted setting the state policy of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 25% by 2020. The Plan also includes commitments for adapting to anticipated climate changes and strategies are under development, guided by climate change impact assessments. These strategies include the relevant sectors of agriculture, forests and water resources. The University System of Maryland has also undertaken an Environmental Sustainability Initiative that extends from our academic and research programs and our own campus practices to the provision of expertise to inform policies, from local to global. Included within this portfolio is a comprehensive climate change education program (MADE CLEAR) that aims to make Marylanders the most climate literate in the nation.

At the Federal level, earlier this year President Obama released a Climate Action Plan to include activities within the executive branch. The Federal plan addresses the goal of protecting our economy and natural resources with the specific objectives of conserving land and water resources and maintaining agricultural sustainability. Bringing these Federal efforts together with the adaptation planning, research and education already under way in Maryland offers many timely opportunities for collaboration. At the same time, such efforts could clear new pathways for addressing the challenge of Chesapeake Bay restoration while also helping to limit climate change and increase our resilience to its effects.

Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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