Adapting to Climate Change - The Role of Sustainable Agriculture - Seeker's Thoughts

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Seeker's Thoughts

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Adapting to Climate Change - The Role of Sustainable Agriculture

Adaptation is often essential at a local level. Local governments may need to construct flood defenses, plan for heat waves and modify road systems in order to mitigate damage caused by storm surges or higher temperatures.

Sustainable agriculture can play an essential role in combatting climate change. When designed appropriately, sustainable agriculture can bring positive co-benefits for mitigation, adaptation and, in developing nations, development.


Freshwater supplies around the world are under strain due to pollution, climate change and increasing demands from crops like coffee. Sustainable farming practices like planting natural tree buffers along rivers and streams help ease pressure off these precious resources; saving crops and soil from erosion while mitigating pollution levels for healthier waters and keeping rivers clean and safe for swimming.

Communities often must adapt to climate change differently because its impacts vary across areas. Some communities must deal with floods while others face drought or heat waves; and some must move from their homes and relocate in other places, an act known as managed retreat which some tribes already use such as Mississippi's Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, who lost much of their low-lying island homeland due to rising sea levels.

Many households and businesses invest in adaptation measures to lessen the effects of climate change, but governments must do more. Information must be made more widely available, clarify responsibilities and liabilities, provide direct assistance for those unable to afford investments, encourage innovation through incentives like tax breaks for renewable energy solutions.

Nearly 70 countries have developed national adaptation plans. These plans examine climate hazards decades into the future, current vulnerabilities, and possible responses - providing a useful way of improving Nationally Determined Contributions under Paris Agreement or linking to global initiatives like Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).


The global food system must come up with ways to feed an estimated 10 billion people who will inhabit our planet by 2050 without increasing greenhouse gas emissions or further degrading ecosystems - while also working toward reducing inequality and protecting those most susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change is already impacting crop production around the globe, reducing yields in some regions while heightening weather volatility in others. Therefore, adaptation and mitigation actions at multiple levels must be implemented immediately to manage future risk.

Farmers and ranchers are adapting to climate change by adopting more resilient practices - including using soil cover crops, planting a variety of crops, increasing water efficiency or installing irrigation systems. Many are also increasing genetic diversity within their crops to make them more resistant against unpredictable environments.

Actions taken to expand renewable energy usage in agriculture and fisheries are also vital parts of the solution. By turning to green forms of energy, farmers can help lower pollution while protecting current productivity levels.

There is also an array of innovative, nature-based solutions available for adaptation efforts - such as planting mangroves or coastal forests to reduce flooding; building seawalls to defend against rising sea levels; installing green roofs as cooling mechanisms in cities to alleviate urban heat islands or selective breeding drought-resistant crops. Many such projects are being taken on globally through UNEP's and IUCN's Global Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Fund.


Adaptation means mitigating risks related to climate change - such as sea-level rise and more intense extreme weather events - while taking advantage of opportunities presented by this shift, such as longer growing seasons and higher yields in certain regions. It may also include planning ahead by factoring future climate conditions into development plans such as building flood defences or upgrading roads that can tolerate higher temperatures.

Local communities, businesses and governments at all levels are becoming more adept at considering climate change when planning. They are building flood defenses and installing storm water drainage systems; developing drought-resistant crop varieties; adapting how they plan for heat waves and wildfires; revising communications systems; altering business operations and even revamping government policies to address climate change.

Good news is that most people have incentives to adapt, but need help in overcoming barriers - such as limited information, high upfront costs and behavioral biases. Governments must provide appropriate information, clarify responsibilities and liabilities, support innovation and find cost-effective solutions while simultaneously making sure poorer communities have access to funds and technical skills they require for adaptation.

Energy is a central aspect of these efforts, as many adaptation actions require energy resources. To reduce their vulnerability to climate change, households can opt for low-emission appliances, plant more efficient crops, and employ innovative cooling measures - but doing so will require an increase in electricity supply; its costs will show up as higher electric bill rates. Our research shows that mitigation pathways which account for adaptation-energy feedback can actually lower overall system costs and may turn negative at temperatures well below 2degC; making investing in efficient technologies even more crucial.


An important goal is ensuring the impacts of climate change are understood and considered when making land use decisions. We require a more resource-based perspective of vulnerability, increased understanding of how human-induced forcings impact climate systems, and new tools to make informed decisions about managing our lands and natural resources for an evolving climate.

Adaptation is the practice of responding to adverse climate impacts such as flooding, higher temperatures, or reduced crop yields through measures such as increasing flooding levels, lower temperatures or restricting development in flood plains or coastal locations vulnerable to hurricane storm surge. Communities will respond differently depending on the nature and severity of impacts in their locality; wealthier nations may be better able to afford costs associated with adaptation while established social institutions provide information and skills.

Many farmers and ranchers are already adapting to climate change by cutting water consumption, planting drought-tolerant crops or increasing their proportion of grassland cover for livestock grazing. Unfortunately, however, they often need assistance in overcoming barriers to their adaptive capacity such as limited knowledge, lack of resources, behavioral biases and imperfect markets. Governments can assist by making information easily available; clarifying responsibilities/liabilities clearly; supporting innovation/risk taking activities while offering protection.

Reducing climate change will require more than simply adaptation measures; food security and ecosystem health must also be preserved. The Paris Agreement calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors and keeping warming below 1.5degC; many pathways can involve difficult trade-offs between competing objectives; one key challenge to consider in doing this will be deforestation/land degradation reduction which remains an essential element of its solution.


As the world continues to experience higher temperatures, rising seas, fiercer storms, drier conditions and longer wildfire seasons, it is vital that people find ways to adapt. The most successful adaptation strategies take into account human needs while still taking into account natural and social systems.

As global population is projected to reach over two billion in 2050, food production must increase by 70%. Sustainable agriculture offers an appealing way of meeting this rising need while using our limited resources wisely.

Communities around the globe are showing what it takes to adapt to climate change by devising and testing practical solutions. Ecosystem-based approaches can provide effective protection from floods, drought, or food insecurity while making use of positive opportunities such as longer growing seasons or increased yields.

Even as communities develop effective solutions, many remain vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Inequality, poverty and lack of access to basic services are prime predictors of vulnerability; to meet this challenge effectively it is vital that climate change considerations be integrated into development policy thinking from day one.

Many communities are finding solutions through ingenuity and collaboration with farmers and ranchers; California communities are using goats to clear brush and reduce wildfire risk, while coastal communities in Djibouti are adapting to warmer, drier conditions by restoring mangrove forests which both protect against sea-level rise as well as provide food, shelter and other essential resources. Explore SARE project reports for further insight into how these kinds of solutions work on working farms and ranches.

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