Global Agreements, Climate Change, and Agriculture

Last week at the UN General Assembly in New York, faith leaders delivered an Interfaith Climate Change Statement to UN delegates and official representatives prior to a crucial signing ceremony. The interfaith statement, signed by over 270 religious leaders, urged governments from around the world to ratify and implement the Paris Agreement, made last December, on reducing carbon emissions and decisively responding to climate change by 2020. Learn more about the Paris Agreement here.

The interfaith statement made clear that religious and spiritual leaders are standing together to urge all Heads of State to promptly sign and ratify the Paris Agreement.

“Caring for the Earth is our shared responsibility. Each one of us has a ‘moral responsibility to act,’ as so powerfully stated by the Pope’s Encyclical and in the climate change statements by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and other faith leaders. The planet has already passed safe levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Unless these levels are rapidly reduced, we risk creating irreversible impacts putting hundreds of millions of lives, of all species, at severe risk. The challenges ahead require honesty and courage and we all must take action to reduce emissions.”

The recent signing ceremony at the UN Headquarters in New York City took place on Friday, April 22, which by no coincidence was Earth Day. Some 175 countries signed the historic accord at a ceremony hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Agreement recognizes, he said, “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the impacts of climate change.”

He also said in his remarks that the Agreement highlights the need to “increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience … in a manner that does not threaten food production.”

The crucial role of agriculture

Maria-Helena Semedo, UN-FAO Deputy Director-General for Natural Resources, remarked that agriculture can play a crucial role in making the response to climate change more effective.

Semedo also noted that agriculture is one of the main sectors of the economy that is severely affected by climate change. The recent El Niño phenomenon is a testimony to that, she said.

She stressed that the rural poor and smallholder farmers are the ones severely affected by the consequences of climate change, namely prolonged droughts in some parts of the world and severe storms in others. Global warming also is causing changes in biological diversity and ecosystem balance to the detriment of many, even as this temporarily benefits some.

Role of family farmers, rural communities

The Faith, Food & Environment project continues to argue that there is a crucial role for family farmers to play in eradicating poverty and hunger, now aggravated by climate change.

Given that nearly 80 percent of the extreme poor and hungry people live in rural areas, we agree with international leaders who clearly state: “Let’s empower rural actors, small holders, rural women, youth, and indigenous peoples in our collective action.”

Role for U.S. Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also released a statement following the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement last week. By signing the historic climate agreement, he said, “the U.S. is moving forward on our commitment to take real action on climate change.”

“The agreement establishes a long-term and durable framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and build resiliency for the future. America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have a track record of coupling extraordinary productivity gains with natural resource stewardship, which positions them well to contribute to the climate solutions called for in the Paris Agreement.”

Sec. Vilsack highlighted the significance over the past several years of USDA conservation programs. He said these “have helped American producers install practices that have reduced net greenhouse gas emissions by over 416 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or approximately 60 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year.”

Vilsack went on to say that the USDA will accelerate its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons a year by 2025.

Leading the way to a resilient agriculture

The Faith, Food & Environment project will also advocate for “climate-smart” strategies and continue to encourage agricultural professionals to lead the way in building resilience, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing carbon storage in our soils and forest.

At the same time, we must find an effective and equitable way to boost productivity and improve global food security. We firmly believe family farmers and smallholder farmers are a necessary part of this new agriculture for a challenging time in history.