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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

The Food Systems and Climate Change Connection

Food Integrity Campaign | April 25, 2023

Climate change affects the entire food system from production, processing, transportation, storage and consumption. It’s no secret that climate change has already altered weather patterns, contributing to stronger hurricanes, intense rain and flooding, heatwaves and droughts. It’s not an existential threat, the time to transform our methods of feeding the future in light of climate disruption is now.

Despite record rainfalls this winter, the western U.S. is still experiencing a megadrought—the most extreme drought this region has seen in the last 1,200 years. Scientists say it will take years of wet seasons to replenish underground aquifers and reservoirs back to levels seen prior to the megadrought. This is causing a major strain between agricultural farms and cities for the distribution of water. To adapt, some farmers in California’s Imperial Valley have switched from farming water-intensive crops like alfalfa to farming more crops that are less water intensive like sugar beets and dry beans.

On the international stage, climate change is impacting weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. According to the world’s top climate scientists on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), here’s some ways climate change is impacting our global food system:

  • Food production from fisheries and shellfish aquaculture are adversely affected in some oceanic regions due to ocean warming and ocean acidification.
  • Increased occurrences of food-borne, water-borne and vector borne diseases in all regions due to extreme heat, as a result of climate change.
  • Increased extreme weather and events have exposed more people to food insecurity and affected water security.

Other adverse impacts of global climate change include loss of biodiversity, loss of human life, loss of livelihood, and damage to nature and property from extreme weather and events. Climate change is increasingly driving displacement of people from Africa, Asia, North America, Central and South America and small island states in the Caribbean and South Pacific. The small island states are being disproportionately affected due to their small population size. The sad irony is the vulnerable communities who have contributed the least to climate change often feel its impacts the most.

According to a peer-reviewed scientific assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, “The U.S. has many advantages: a large area of arable land, high agricultural yields, vast integrated transportation systems, and a high level of overall economic development. Nonetheless, changes in climate are expected to affect U.S. consumers and producers by altering the type and price of food imports from other regions of the world, as well as by changing the export demands placed on U.S. producers and the transportation, processing, and storage systems that enable global trade. Demand for food and development assistance may increase, as may demand for the technologies and information to manage changing conditions.”

This is a serious matter. As an eater, you should care about climate change because it affects your food supply and food security.

Thankfully, efforts are being taken globally and at home to adapt or respond to climate change. Here’s some of the federal programs in the U.S. intended to help farmers adapt or respond to climate change:

  • USDA’s Climate-Smart Commodities Projects Initiatives: The USDA is investing over $3.1 billion in 141 selected projects by producers and landowners of working lands to implement large-scale pilot projects that create market opportunities for commodities produced using agricultural (farming, ranching, or forestry) climate-smart practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon.
  • Voluntary Conservation Programs through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): NRCS offers several conservation programs to help people reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damage caused by floods and other natural disasters. But specifically, conservation agriculture policy in the form of their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helps agricultural producers address natural resource concerns and adapt to a changing climate.
  • USDA Climate Hubs: Locally specific tools and resources developed by USDA to help farmers and ranchers build climate change adaptation capacity across the country.

If you didn’t already know, FIC is advocating for a policy shift to shape a better Farm Bill for all. The Farm Bill is going through reauthorization in 2023 and Farm Bill policies can shape the future of our food system for years to come. $20 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act is being allocated to pre-existing Farm Bill programs for climate initiatives. This is a big opportunity to develop a fairer and more sustainable future of food.

According to the 2023 IPCC report, the impacts of climate change on our global food supply are only going to get worse and therefore our food system must adapt and contribute to emissions reduction. But the good news is there are solutions within our food system that could provide a quarter of the world’s urgently needed emissions cut. Even though our food system is being impacted by climate change, we also have the power to transform our food system and use it as a solution to our problems! The authors of the 2023 IPCC report write, “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all. The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”


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