Listening just now to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speak in Copenhagen at Agriculture and Rural Development Day, I was reminded of how important meetings are to generating hard deadlines. According to Vilsack, the USDA will issue “The Effects of Climate Change on US Ecosystems” before President Obama travels here this coming week. While we cannot be sure, the report appears to be a serious effort, drawing in high-powered academic researchers, to examine the fundamental relationship between climate and ecosystems.
That the report would focus on the US, generally perceived as having healthy ecosystems relative to many parts of the world, will serve to draw even greater attention to this key set of relationships.
And while Vilsack didn’t respond to questions about guidance he might or might not have given to the US negotiating team, it was clear that the release of this report during COP 15 was intended to be part of the series of signals sent in recent days to demonstrate seriousness of purpose.
Vilseck outlined an effort by the USDA to advance the role of agriculture in addressing climate change by pursuing research alongside adaptation and mitigation measures that would support efforts to expand “scope, scale and impact.” Emphasizing the link between climate change and food security, he said that while US agriculture may produce “7% of the problem (in terms of greenhouse gas emissions), we think it may represent 20% of the solution.” In stressing the need to address fundamental problems, he pointedly noted “that we need to go beyond what has been done before” and also “rethink the business model” for agriculture in the United States.
Having watched one of Vilsack’s aides carefully note changes in his actual speech from the prepared, printed remarks she had in hand, I decided the Secretary should also be able to see “Hope in a Changing Climate,” which is the closing event at this very well run and well attended forum. I gave her a copy of the DVDs that arrived in Copenhagen earlier this week.