Vilsack says world needs to 'get serious' about climate change

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2014 -USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday laid out the Obama administration's commitment to the newly formed Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, saying it's time for the country and the world to get serious about the phenomenon.

The U.S. is a founding member of the Global Alliance, which was announced at the United Nations Climate Summit last week in New York. The general goal of the group is to protect 500 million farmers from the effects of climate change and while still increasing agricultural productivity.

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Specifically, the coalition of more than 100 members including governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) aims to achieve: “Sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; greater resilience of food systems and farming livelihoods; and reduction and/or removal of greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture (including the relationship between agriculture and ecosystems), wherever possible,” according to a UN release.

“I think it's important and necessary for us to have a better analysis here in the United States of what the impact of climate is on agricultural production,” Vilsack said in a speech to the Chicago Council.

Vilsack described how USDA programs already in place will play a role in the new alliance. One such example is the USDA's seven regional climate hubs. The information gathered in these hubs focus on how agriculture operations can better increase carbon sequestration, for example, in a larger scale effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by agriculture.

Vilsack said sharing research and results of studies will expedite the understanding of climate change and how it is changing the globe. He said he was “extraordinarily proud” of the research conducted at USDA and will be sharing findings through a recently announced open data initiative.

“We've unlocked the vault, so to speak,” Vilsack said, adding that some USDA research is information the department “has kept to itself for far too long.” He said he hopes making the data available to scientists around the world promote synergy among different nations in the fight against climate change.

The administration has taken a more active stance against climate change than many of its predecessors, and USDA efforts have been a large part of that push, Vilsack said. USDA's own website lists the department's concerns with climate change that might affect agriculture including more severe storms, rising average temperatures, greater extremes in precipitation, and an increasing number of forest fires.

Even with the department's efforts, Vilsack said many people still refuse to accept climate change.  He cited a recent USDA study of more than 4,000 Midwestern producers and said about 80 percent of respondents either didn't believe climate change was occurring or didn't think humans had an impact on it. When that same group was asked if they would like information on how to combat weather variability, there was an overwhelmingly positive response.

“I don't care what we call it, it's an issue we have to address,” Vilsack said. “In some circles, you're going to call it climate change, in other circles you're going to call it weather variability, but the bottom line is we've got to get serious about it.”

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