Scientific Societies Release Official Position on Climate Change

The significance of climate change to the practice of agriculture, soils, and land management has led the 10,000-plus members of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) to develop a position statement on climate change, based on a review of current scientific knowledge and understanding.

In the statement, the societies warn that a changing climate could have large affects on the future ability of agriculture to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber, as well as vital “ecosystem services” such as pollination, natural pest management, and erosion control.

“Food and energy security, water availability and quality, and climate change adaptation and mitigation are some of the greatest challenges facing our society,” said Chuck Rice, president of the Soil Science Society of America, a panel member, and a professor of soil microbiology at Kansas State. “Appropriate management of soils offers the potential to provide solutions for each of these challenges.”

“The increasing climate variation will impact our ability to efficiently produce food and feed and to ensure a more stable production system we will need to understand the components of resilient crop production systems,” said Jerry Hatfield a member of the panel that produced the paper and a past president of the American Society of Agronomy, “A focus on adaptation, mitigation, and resilience has be treated as a combined set of endpoints if we are meet the food security challenges under an uncertain climate.”

The statement reflects the consensus of a panel of scientists with national and international expertise in climate processes and impacts, mitigation strategies, and adaptation methods for natural and managed ecosystems.

The statement includes the beliefs that:

  •  Increases in ambient temperatures and changes in related processes are directly linked to rising anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
  •  The potential affects of climate change on the ability of agricultural systems, including soil and water resources, to provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel, and maintain ecosystem services (e.g., water supply and habitat for crop landraces, wild relatives, and pollinators) are major concerns.
  • Changes in temperature have already begun to affect crops, water availability, and pests in some areas. These effects are projected to become increasingly severe as climate change becomes more pronounced.
  •  The agricultural sector faces a significant challenge: to increase production for the purpose of providing food security for 9 billion people by the middle of the 21st century, while also protecting the environment and enhancing function of global ecosystems. Rising and more volatile food prices are also threatening food security, and the challenge is further compounded by climate change impacts that now require mitigation. Therefore, agricultural practices must be developed to mitigate climate change, adapt cropping systems to expected changes, meet future demands for food, feed, fiber, and bioenergy, and protect natural resources.
  • Agricultural activities account for 10 percent to 15 percent of total global emissions of the three main greenhouse gases – CO2, CH4, and N2O – although estimates vary. While agricultural, forest, and grazing land-management emit greenhouse gases, many opportunities exist to mitigate these emissions and to sequester carbon in the soil and in the biomass of perennial vegetation.
  • The global mitigation potential for agriculture is estimated to range between 5,500 and 6,000 Mt CO2-eq/yr through the large-scale application of practices that improve productivity, reduce GHG emissions, and conserve soil.

For the agricultural sector to anticipate and respond to climate change, the research and development community must develop the knowledge and methods required to ensure food security and ecosystem services. As a result, intensified and focused research is needed in several broad areas in agronomy, crop science, and soil science.